Vote for two Democrats and call me in the morning....

An eager reader forwards me this Mother Jones article that says, based on research by UNL political scientist Mitchel Herian, that more liberal states have healthier people:

Why might liberal states have healthier residents? The hypothesis that Herian's paper set out to test is quite simple: Democratic or liberal states do more to make their populations healthier—for example, through spending more on health care programs and general social safety net programs. And those policies work, or at least mostly work; hence, their populations are indeed healthier. "We're definitely talking about the election of Democrats leading to better health outcomes because they adopt policies designed to lead to the better well being of individuals," says Herian [Chris Mooney, "Is Liberalism Good for Your Health?" Mother Jones, 2014.03.25].

I question the validity of this article for one reason: it labels South Dakota a "moderate" state.

The most compelling chart in the article shows the relationship among three variables: political inclination (conservative to liberal), health, and social capital, the sense of trust and connection people feel with their neighbors.

chart of politics, health, and social capital, Mother Jones, 2014.03.25

Note that "more conservative" states spread across the health range, "moderate" states less so. "More liberal" states cluster in the top half of the health range. But in a fun misalignment of visual metaphor, all three groups of states in the healthier range show similarly fat blobs of social capital. Social capital isn't everything—"moderate" South Dakota shows more social capital than "moderate" Minnesota, but Minnesota is healthier—but the blobs suggest it's something. Those trusting yahoos in Idaho manage to be just as healthy as those wacky but solo-bowling libs in Hawaii and Delaware.

Why would social capital make a potentially politics-trumping difference on health?

Why living in a place where you're more trusting of your neighbors equates to better health isn't entirely clear. But one idea, according to Herian, is that "in places of higher levels of trust, there might be more voluntary organizations, religious organizations, that are designed to improve the health and well being of people." (Indeed, one of the leading theorists of social capital, Robert Putnam, put considerable emphasis on the role of religion in cementing community bonds in his influential book Bowling Alone.) The study found that in states with high levels of liberalism, social capital didn't have all that much of an impact on health. However, in conservative states, social capital (or the lack thereof) made a big difference [Mooney, 2014.03.25].

So perhaps if you're worried about keeping your state healthy, you can vote Republican, as long as you feel like you and your neighbors all trust each other enough to form voluntary organizations and drive each other to the hospital. But just as you can order whole-grain toast and organic oatmeal, why not build trust and vote for liberals?