Turns Out If You're Conservative, You're More Likely To Be Healthy
Who did you vote for in the May 2019 federal election?
Whether you supported the Coalition, Labor, or another party or candidate, it turns out your political views might influence more than you think: your personality, your relationships, and even how you make decisions.
And if you’re politically conservative, you may actually be physically healthier.
It’s a controversial claim. Until now, studies have shown right-leaning people tend to report being healthier. But is that because right-leaning people simply say they are healthier, or because they actually eat their fruits and veggies more than left-leaning folk?
These findings have only been observed at national levels (e.g., Democrats vs. Republicans in the U.S., Labour vs. Tory supporters in the U.K.) While the reasons are not totally clear, we do have a couple of explanations -- which also might explain why conservatives also report being happier, as well as healthier, than their left-leaning counterparts .
But for the first time, there is evidence that conservatives actually walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
In my latest research with Australians, Britons, and Americans, I found evidence that right-leaning individuals may actually engage in actions that would improve their physical health.
In one study with Americans, I found that survey participants who said they supported the Republican Party were more likely to report being healthier -- thus replicating already well-established findings.
But in a second study with Australians, I found that people who supported the Liberal-National Coalition, the country’s dominant right-leaning political party, were more likely to take the stairs instead of a lift.
More than 200 participants were told to complete a survey, then take their papers up one flight of stairs to hand in. Everyone was encouraged to take the stairs, but the lift was closer -- and a large portion -- significantly more left-leaning than right-leaning -- opted to be less physically active.
The results showed that 52.9 percent of politically conservative people took the stairs, while only 36.3 percent of Labor supporters did.
And in a third study, I found that smokers who supported the conservative party were more likely to quit smoking than those who supported Labor.
So, what’s going on? How can we explain right-leaning voters’ better physical health?
Well, let’s think about what right-leaning individuals believe in, and what they care about.
Fundamentally, they care about upholding traditional values, and they follow social norms. The concept of personal responsibility is, therefore, highly valued among these individuals.
This means taking responsibility for one’s actions -- which I presumed would include the domain of physical health.
We can surmise that right-leaning individuals would feel more responsible for their own health, and this personal sense of responsibility would motivate them to actually improve their health.
My findings across the three studies support this. Right-leaning individuals were more likely to report greater personal responsibility across a variety of domains including health (“I pay my bills immediately” and “I put a seat belt on when I enter the car”), and this statistically mediated their greater health-taking behaviors.
That is, right-leaning individuals’ personal responsibility can explain their health care-taking behaviours.
Now, this does not mean that personal responsibility is the only explanation.
People’s political beliefs are a complex phenomenon, and there are likely many other things going on. For example, right-leaning voters tend to be higher income-earners; obviously with a higher income one can buy more healthy foods such as organic products.
But my findings suggest that personal responsibility can play a role at the very least.
I also note that personal responsibility is not always a good thing. Although I only focused on people’s physical health, feeling responsible to oneself can lead to feelings of pride, which can be a “good” emotion, but can also hurt social relationships in some circumstances. Thus, while right-leaning individuals’ greater personal responsibility may improve their health, it can hurt other aspects of their lives. That’s a question I have only just started to look at, and psychologists and political scientists are just beginning to study.
I grew up in Canada, where Justin Trudeau is fighting to keep his position as Prime Minister in the upcoming election. I have always been fascinated by politics and current events, and I -- along with many others -- believe that a person’s political ideology plays a fundamental role who they “are”.
Whether you support the Coalition or Labor says much about you. It can even predict where you shop, what brands you prefer, and even how well you do on multiple choice versus essay tests in university.
I focused on physical health because many people around the world, Australians included, are not exercising enough, and are definitely not eating their Brussels sprouts. I have also found, for instance, that right-leaning individuals are less likely to donate their organs and they are more attached to brands.
My research doesn’t say how to improve these things -- whether it is to get people, whatever their political beliefs, to donate their organs more or improve their physical health -- but if people’s political ideology can play a role in how much people take care of themselves, harnessing this information brings us one step closer to improving the well-being of everyone around the world, no matter who they vote for.