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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Is there a Causal Link between Health and Voting?

Political Participation
Voting Behaviour
Mikko Mattila
University of Helsinki
Mikko Mattila
University of Helsinki
Lauri Rapeli
Åbo Akademi
Achillefs Papageorgiou
University of Helsinki

In recent years many scholars from the field of political behavior have turned to personal health in their search for new determinants of political action. These contributions typically analyze personal health from the perspective of resource theory: poor health is expected to diminish the political activity of an individual, much like lack of any other relevant resource, such as time or social network, would do.
Most studies have focused on the most pivotal form of political action, voting. The findings show that turnout among people who rate their personal health as lower than ‘good’ is about ten percentage points lower than among those with good health (e.g. Mattila et al. 2013). But relying on traditional survey data, as these studies do, does not allow any causal explanations. What is, however, more or less explicitly assumed is that poor health leads to lower propensity to vote. This is very problematic, since the possible causal link between personal health and voting remains unverified. Moreover, as Söderlund & Rapeli (2015) have shown, the effect of personal health on political action is not always negative, because health problems may also function as a motivator. The causal arrow could also run in different directions among different types of individuals. While declining health might make the elderly less likely to vote, it could have the opposite effect on young people; they might become more motivated to vote as a result of health problems if they suddenly depend on the society for help.
We use the British Household Survey panel survey data to examine the causal connection between personal health and turnout. We go beyond existing analyses to see 1) whether a causal link between personal health and voting exists and 2) whether that link is negative, i.e. that declining health leads to diminished voting propensity.
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