The Politics of Hope and Despair: The Effect of Presidential Election Outcomes on Suicide Rates

Authors


  • *Direct correspondence to Richard A. Dunn, Texas A&M University—Department of Agricultural Economics, 333 Blocker Bldg., 2124 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-2124 〈radunn@ag.tamu.edu〉. This author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award T32 MH18029 from the National Institute of Mental Health. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Abstract

Objectives. This article examines the effect of election outcomes on suicide rates by combining the theory of social integration developed by Durkheim with the models of rational choice used in economics.

Methods. Theory predicts that states with a greater percentage of residents who supported the losing candidate would tend to exhibit a relative increase in suicide rates. However, being around others who also supported the losing candidate may indicate a greater degree of social integration at the local level, thereby lowering relative suicide rates. We therefore use fixed-effects regression of state suicide rates from 1981 to 2005 on state election outcomes during presidential elections to determine which effect is stronger.

Results. We find that the local effect of social integration is dominant. The suicide rate when a state supports the losing candidate will tend to be lower than if the state had supported the winning candidate—4.6 percent lower for males and 5.3 percent lower for females.

Conclusion. Social integration works at many levels; it not only affects suicide risk directly, but can mediate other shocks that influence suicide risk.

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