There is evidence that, in the US, Republican-leaning counties have had higher COVID-19 death rates than Democratic-leaning counties and similar evidence of an association between political party affiliation and attitudes regarding COVID-19 vaccination. This investigation assessed political party affiliation and mortality rates for individuals during the initial 22 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A cross-sectional comparison of excess mortality between registered Republican and Democratic voters between March 2020 and December 2021 adjusted for age and state of voter registration was conducted. Voter and mortality data from Florida and Ohio in 2017 linked to mortality records for January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2021, were used in data analysis. The main outcome measure was the excess weekly death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic adjusted for age, county, party affiliation, and seasonality.
Between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2021, there were 538 159 individuals in Ohio and Florida who died at the age of 25 years or older in the study sample. The median age at death was 78 years (IQR, 71-89 years). Overall, the excess death rate for Republican voters was 2.8 percentage points, or 15%, higher than the excess death rate for Democratic voters (95% prediction interval [PI], 1.6-3.7 percentage points). After May 1, 2021, when vaccines were available to all adults, the excess death rate gap between Republican and Democratic voters widened from −0.9 percentage points (95% PI, −2.5 to 0.3 percentage points) to 7.7 percentage points (95% PI, 6.0-9.3 percentage points) in the adjusted analysis; the excess death rate among Republican voters was 43% higher than the excess death rate among Democratic voters. The gap in excess death rates between Republican and Democratic voters was larger in counties with lower vaccination rates and was primarily noted in voters residing in Ohio.
The authors concluded that, in this cross-sectional study, an association was observed between political party affiliation and excess deaths in Ohio and Florida after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults. These findings suggest that differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republican and Democratic voters may have been factors in the severity and trajectory of the pandemic in the US.
In light of what has been discussed repeatedly, these findings are in my view most impressive and seem to speak for themselves. The authors are nevertheless prudent and stress that their study has several limitations which mean that we ought to interpret their results with caution.
- First, there are plausible alternative explanations for the difference in excess death rates by political party affiliation beyond the explanatory role of vaccines discussed herein.
- Second, the mortality data, although detailed and recent, only included approximately 83.5% of deaths in the US and did not include the cause of death. Although overall excess death patterns in our data are similar to those in other reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics data, it is possible that the deaths that our study data did not include may disproportionately occur among individuals registered with a particular political party, potentially biasing our results. In addition, the completeness of the mortality data may vary across states or time, potentially biasing our estimates of excess death rates.
- Third, all excess death models rely on fundamentally untestable assumptions to construct the baseline number of deaths one would expect in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Fourth, because no information on individual vaccination status was available, analyses of the association between vaccination rates and excess deaths relied on county-level vaccination rates.
- Fifth, the study was based on data from 2 states with readily obtainable historical voter registration information (Florida and Ohio); hence, the results may not generalize to other states.