A study released Thursday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research shows that California residents in good health with little psychological distress and better access to health care are more likely to consistently vote than those who have physical or psychological health issues.
The percentage of adults who reported that they always voted was highest among those who said they were in excellent or very good health — just under 41% — and who had experienced no psychological distress in the past year — just under 41%, compared with 37.4% who reported being in good health and 32.7% who reported being in fair or poor health, according to the policy brief.
Just over 23% of those who reported experiencing psychological distress within the past year reported that they always voted, according to the study’s authors.
Voter registration and participation were also lower among respondents who had worse access to health care, according to the study, which found that just over 40% of those who had visited a doctor in the past year reported that they always voted compared with 28% who had not seen a doctor during that time period.
The disparities in voting may make it less likely that the needs of the less healthy and more disadvantaged in the state are being addressed, according to the study’s authors.
“We found differences in voting by health and neighborhood factors that suggest that people who vote are healthier, have better access to health care and live in more cohesive and safer neighborhoods than those who don’t vote,” said Susan Babey, the study’s lead author and a senior research scientist at the center. “These differences in civic activities such as voting could contribute to policies that fail to meet the health needs of Californians who are less healthy, face barriers in access to health care and live in disadvantaged communities, which may in turn lead to greater inequities in health.”
The study also found that:
— Respondents who perceived their neighborhoods as safe all of the time were most likely to report that they always vote (43%), while those who felt their neighborhoods were mostly unsafe were least likely (23.2%);
— Those who live in areas that have high levels of social cohesion — defined as a sense of connectedness and unity among neighbors — reported higher rates of always voting (49.5%) than those in areas with low cohesion (27.5%);
— Nearly 9 in 10 U.S.-born and naturalized citizens in California reported that they are registered to vote. Of those registered, 44% said they always vote in presidential, state and local elections; 17% said they frequently vote; 34% said they vote sometimes and 5% said they never vote.
Latinos, individuals in Generation X (ages 38 to 53), those with less than a high school education and those in the lowest income group (0% to 99% of the federal poverty level) were most likely to report that not being eligible was the main reason they were not registered to vote, according to the study.
“Many California adults offered reasons for not being registered, such as incorrectly believing they are not eligible to vote or not knowing how to register, that could be addressed with targeted voter engagement efforts,” Babey said. “Importantly, these reasons were more likely to be offered by groups that already experience health inequities, including low-income adults, those with limited English proficiency, Latinos and Asians.”
Joelle Wolstein, also a co-author of the study, said researchers were recommending a combination of strategies to increase participation in voting and other activities, including providing civics education and pre-registration opportunities in settings such as high schools and supporting integrated voter-engagement activities, including get-out-the-vote efforts.
The study used data from the center’s 2017 and 2018 California Health Interview Survey.