While a vast amount of research has shown that electoral participation is strongly connected to sociodemographic and socioeconomic status and sociopsychological variables such as religiosity, party identification, political interest and a sense of political efficacy, only few studies have investigated the extent that health influences turnout and other types of political participation. Some analyses have also assessed the association between health and social capital and political ideology. In these studies, various health indicators have been utilised, such as life-expectancy, mental illness, physical disability and self-assessed health. The findings of these studies suggest, although inconclusively, that poor health is associated with a lesser degree of political engagement, regardless of whether it is measured in terms of voting or social capital.
However, the interplay between health and political engagement is not yet fully understood. The inconclusive findings may be partly due to the fact that survey-based health indicators are inadequate and partly unreliable measures of an individual’s health status. Register-based objective indicators of health, such as days spent in hospital care or absence from work due to illness, are often more reliable than self-rated measures. Such indicators are, however, not easily available. In some countries access to such registers for research purposes is not possible. The study of political behaviour additionally requires that individual-level health data can be matched with individual-level data on political participation, which is also often inaccurate due to memory failures or over-reporting related to social desirability. Such data requirements often make the study of the relationship between health and political engagement highly challenging.
Studying the connections between health, social connectedness and voting extends our understanding of the dissimilarities between voters and non-voters. Discovering skews in participation and voting that are related to health and socioeconomic status, contributes to our understanding of contemporary democratic representation. Available evidence indicates that political decision-making better represents the interests of wealthier citizens. These findings suggest that skews in participation can result in corresponding skews on the political agenda. The potential importance of such distortions in the functioning of representative democracies warrants scholarly attention from various national institutional contexts.
Aims of the Project
In this research project, the impact of health on turnout is analysed with data from multiple sources. For comparative purposes, international survey data sets such as the European Social Survey (ESS) are used. The Finnish part of the study will utilise individual-level register data from the Finnish parliamentary elections of 1999 and 2011. The data link the official voting records collected from electoral wards with a set of individual-level based health indicators, obtained for instance from hospital discharge and prescription registers. The data used in the project are internationally exceptional. Compared to survey data, there are everal advantages: no nonresponse bias, perfect accuracy in measurement of both dependent and independent variables with no self-report bias and access to information that would be difficult to collect via survey questionnaires, namely various health indicators.
The research project combines electoral researchers from three Finnish universities with expertise in electoral and health studies. The responsible leader of the project Mikko Mattila is a professor of political science at the Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki. He has widely published on subjects related to political behaviour both in the Finnish and international context. He is a founding member of the Finnish election study consortium and has participated in the planning, execution and publishing of the results of the 2003, 2007 and 2011 election studies. Pekka Martikainen is a professor of demography at the Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki. He is the head of the Population Research Unit at the department and the head of the Centre for Population, Health and Society, a multidisciplinary research community that was awarded in the 2012 research assessment exercise at the University of Helsinki. Lauri Rapeli is a Senior Researcher at the Aronia Research and Development Institute, Raseborg. His dissertation investigated political knowledge among various groups of citizens. He currently studies the capacity of citizens to engage in the functions of representative democracy, which is closely related to citizens’ health status and its impact on political engagement. Peter Söderlund has investigated the effect of both institutional and individual-level factors on turnout. Hanna Wass is an Academy research fellow at the Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki. She is a member of the steering committee for the Finnish election study consortium (2011–2015) and one of the two principal investigators in the Finnish national election study 2015.