Black Lives Matter: Differential Mortality and the Racial Composition of the U.S. Electorate, 1970–2004

Publisher: Social Science and Medicine, vol. 136-137
Jul 01, 2015
Authors
Javier M. Rodriguez, Arline T. Geronimus, John Bound, and Danny Dorling

Key Findings:

  • We estimate effects of black excess deaths on the composition of the US electorate.
  • Excess mortality reduced the 2004 black voting age population by 1.7 million.
  • In 2004, Kerry lost 900,000 votes and Bush lost 100,000 to black excess death.
  • Outcomes of 7 senate and 11 gubernatorial races could have been reversed.
  • Excess mortality among blacks in the United States dampens blacks' political voice.

Excess mortality in marginalized populations could be both a cause and an effect of political processes. We estimate the impact of mortality differentials between blacks and whites from 1970 to 2004 on the racial composition of the electorate in the US general election of 2004 and in close statewide elections during the study period. We analyze 73 million US deaths from the Multiple Cause of Death files to calculate: (1) Total excess deaths among blacks between 1970 and 2004, (2) total hypothetical survivors to 2004, (3) the probability that survivors would have turned out to vote in 2004, (4) total black votes lost in 2004, and (5) total black votes lost by each presidential candidate. We estimate 2.7 million excess black deaths between 1970 and 2004. Of those, 1.9 million would have survived until 2004, of which over 1.7 million would have been of voting-age. We estimate that 1 million black votes were lost in 2004; of these, 900,000 votes were lost by the defeated Democratic presidential nominee. We find that many close state-level elections over the study period would likely have had different outcomes if voting age blacks had the mortality profiles of whites. US black voting rights are also eroded through felony disenfranchisement laws and other measures that dampen the voice of the US black electorate. Systematic disenfranchisement by population group yields an electorate that is unrepresentative of the full interests of the citizenry and affects the chance that elected officials have mandates to eliminate health inequality.