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The Ballot or the Wallet

Voting is one of the quintessential aspects of citizenship in the United States. Yet, on average, fewer than one in two physicians casts a vote in America. Physicians cast a ballot significantly less often than the general public or lawyers.

Copyright Cedric Dark. All Rights Reserved.

The 2012 election cycle has become one of the most polarizing election cycles in United States history.  Topics such as tax cuts, health care reform, and budget spending remain at the forefront of discussion; the outcome of these topics will affect the future of the nation’s health care delivery system.  Physicians are viewed as leaders within this country for several reasons including patient advocacy, wealth, and socioeconomic status.

In 2001, the American Medical Association identified the need for physicians to become more involved as “advocate(s) for social, economic, educational, and political changes that ameliorate suffering and contribute to human well-being.”  Recognizing the process of voting as an elementary step of community involvement, the authors of this article sought to examine the voting pattern of physicians in previous federal elections.

This study compared voter participation rates of U.S. physicians compared to lawyers and the general population in congressional and presidential elections between 1996 and 2002. The sample included 85,000 U.S. adult citizens, including 1,274 physicians and 1,886 lawyers using the U.S. Bureau of Census Current Population Survey (CPS) November Voter Supplements for elections between the years of 1996 to 2002.  The sample was adjusted for the variation in demographics between physicians and lawyers compared to the general population.  Physician voter participation rates were also compared between the years of 1976 to 1982 and 1996 to 2002.  There were 2,033 health professionals over the period of 1976 to 1982 identified (physicians were not identified separately from other health professionals until later years in the CPS).  Multivariate logistic regression models were used to compare adjusted physician voting rates with those of lawyers and the general population in the 1996–2002 congressional and presidential elections.

Physicians were significantly less likely to vote than the general population in 3 out of the 4 elections including 1998 (odds ratio 0.76; 95% CI 0.59–0.99), 2000 (odds ratio 0.64; 95% CI 0.44–0.93), and 2002 (odds ratio 0.62; 95% CI 0.48–0.80) but not 1996 (odds ratio 0.83; 95% CI 0.59–1.17).  The pooled adjusted odds ratio for physician voting across the four elections was 0.70 (95% CI 0.61–0.81).

For all four years, the adjusted probability for doctors to vote in an election (41.5 percent; p<0.001) was less compared to the adjusted probability for the general public (50.2 percent; p<0.001) and for lawyers (63.7 percent; p<0.001). Stated another way, one-half of Americans tend to vote in an election. Doctors vote less often, about 42 percent of the time; lawyers vote more often, nearly two-thirds of the time.

Another multivariate logistic regression model was used for the comparison voting rates of health professionals in 1996–2002 with those in prior years 1976–1982.  There were no significant changes in voting rates of health professionals observed between the two time periods 1976–1982 (odds ratio 0.77; 95% CI 0.68–0.86) and 1996–2002 (odds ratio 0.75; 95% CI 0.67–0.85).

Commentary

Although this research identified that physicians vote less often compared to the general population, the study does not include the 2010 election cycle that was temporally associated with the Affordable Care Act.  Physician voting rates could have significantly increased after legislation viewed as affecting the medical community was passed.

According to the U.S. Federal Election Commission for the 2011-2012 election cycle, there are 65 political action committees and parties with the term “medical” in their title within 37 states and the District of Columbia.  These PACs and parties collectively have donations of approximately $6.4 million for the 2011-2012 election cycle that can used to fund electioneering communications.

During the previous election cycle, 74 “medical” PACs or parties collected approximately $9.7 million.  These large amounts of donations for candidates’ campaigns during federal elections may suggest that although physicians are not voting at the same rates of lawyers or even the general public, doctors are still participating in the political process by providing the necessary funding needed by candidates to run successful campaigns.

Grande, D, et al. “Do doctors vote?” J Gen Intern Med. 2007; 22 (5): 585-589.

by

Tyree Winters, DO

 

 

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