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February 22, 2014 12:40 PM Study: Republican presidents are associated with higher infant mortality rates

By Kathleen Geier

Over at the Monkey Cage, political scientist John Sides reports about a new epidemiological study that finds that having a Republican in the White House is linked to increases in infant mortality rates. The study, which was conducted by academics at the University of Michigan, looked at data between 1965 to 2010. They found that, controlling for broader trends and other confounding factors, infant mortality rates are “on average, 3 percent higher under Republican administrations.” To be fair, the study’s methodology has been criticized. But I find the authors’ response to the critique to be compelling. Another scholar is supportive of the study here.

As Sides points out, the main question about the study concerns whether the Republican-dead baby link the researchers found is causal, or merely random correlation. The authors offer this theory, which I find persuasive:

For example, it may be that Republicans are more likely to view health disparities as inevitable, whether due to market forces or as a matter of personal responsibility to be addressed through individual health behaviors, not by government. Democrats, on the other hand, may be more likely to view health disparities as a preventable social problem about which something should be done via government intervention. Although this is an oversimplified rendering of the differences in the ideological traditions, it suggests one type of reason why one might expect Republican and Democratic presidents to affect population health differently. For example, whether a government advocates austerity measures or increasing social welfare protections as the response to economic crisis may reflect such ideological differences and influence mortality rates.

As I’ve mentioned before, the U.S. suffers from one of the most shamefully high infant mortality rates in the developed world. The exact reasons why our infant mortality rate is so high are something of a mystery. But it seems like a good bet that our skimpy social welfare system — a system that tends to become even more ungenerous when the Republicans are in charge — has a lot to do with it. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the ACA has on infant mortality rates. I’m betting that it will lower them significantly — a result that would certainly lend credence to the findings of the study.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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