Shifts in 2016 voting patterns linked to drops in reported well-being

A man and a woman standing at voting booths
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U.S. counties with the sharpest shifts in voting against the incumbent party between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections also reported lower well-being to pollsters, according to a study led by Yale researchers in collaboration with The Gallup Organization. The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that well-being may be an important factor in understanding changes in voting behavior, said the researchers.

Shifts in voting patterns during the 2016 U.S. presidential election have been attributed to several issues, from rising unemployment to declining health, among others. No study to date has assessed the influence of well-being, an indicator that measures aspects of physical, social, mental, and emotional health at the community level, the researchers noted.

To examine the potential impact of well-being on voting, the research team looked at county-level shifts in presidential voting results between 2012 and 2016. They also used a widely recognized measure of well-being, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a nationally representative telephone survey, as well as other indicators.

The researchers found that voting shifts away from the incumbent party in 2016 tracked closely with both reported drops in well-being since 2012, and lower well-being in 2016. For example, in counties where votes shifted from the Democrat to Republican presidential nominee, respondents reported less satisfaction with the city or area where they lived. Voting shifts were also associated with diminished happiness and increased sadness, the researchers said, although there were no changes in levels of anger.

The study does not draw conclusions about a cause of voting shifts. But it is among the first and largest to link well-being with aberrations in national voting patterns, the researchers said.

We found that negative changes in well-being were strongly associated with whether voters in a community changed their voting patterns,” away from the incumbent party,” said first author Jeph Herrin, assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine. “As an independent factor that influences how people vote, well-being is an issue to be considered and studied further.”

Other study authors are Brita Roy and Harlan M. Krumholz of Yale; Carley Riley of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and Dan Witters and Diana Liu of The Gallup Organization. The project was funded by Yale and Gallup. 

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Ziba Kashef: ziba.kashef@yale.edu, 203-436-9317