Quick Take: Drexel Public Health Expert Weighs Impact of Racial Health Inequality on Elections

Photo by Lars Plougmann, CC BY-SA 2.0

By Kim Menard

New research shows that premature death among racial groups translates into political inequities. To change racial health inequalities, voting is a critical step to influence the political process.

Drexel School of Public Health assistant professor Jonathan Purtle, DrPH, MPH, MSc, advises that it’s important to maximize political participation among those able to vote. Considerable racial inequities persist in voting, as the result of premature mortality, felon disenfranchisement, voter ID polices and other barriers to the ballot box.

“A depravation of life deprives one of their right to vote and their ability to alter the distributions of power and property that determine of their community’s heath,” Purtle writes in a commentary published this week in Social Science & Medicine related to new research by Javier Rodriguez and colleagues in the same journal. “The elimination of racial health disparities is more than a public health priority—democracy depends on it.

Research finds that health influences voting and voting influences health:

  • If blacks survived at a rate equal to whites, nearly 1 million more votes would have been cast in the 2004 presidential election.
  • At the state level, seven U.S. Senate and 11 gubernatorial elections would have ended differently between 1970 and 2004 if black-white mortality disparities were eliminated. All “different” election outcomes would have favored the Democratic candidate.
  • In states with the highest levels of voting inequality, individuals rate their health as ‘poor to fair’ more than states with lower levels of voting inequality.

In advance of election day, Purtle is available to provide comment to the news media on the impact voter turnout and elections can have on reducing racial health disparities. To reach him, reporters may contact Rachel Ewing at re39@drexel.edu or 215.895.2614.