One (healthier) person, one vote?

One (healthier) person, one vote?

April 25, 2016
By Matt Windsor
Brian Haynes, a senior majoring in political science and economics, studied the link between Medicaid funding levels and voter turnout in the past three presidential elections.

Many Americans think that big money poisons the political process. But what about those with little money at all?

The lower your income, the higher your cost of voting. The gas or bus fare to get to the polls is a heavier burden, for instance. But what happens when a person’s income rises? Gathering that kind of data on an individual level is next to impossible. So Brian Haynes, a senior majoring in political science in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences and economics in the Collat School of Business, found an alternative measure: Medicaid.

All things being equal, people who get more access to Medicaid have more money available to spend on other things, Haynes explains. He theorized that expanded Medicaid access could be used as a proxy for increased income. And because states set their own requirements for Medicaid access, he could look at the relationship between access and voter turnout in several different states.

“I have an interest in the ways low-income citizens choose to participate, or not to participate, in the political process,” said Haynes. “I believe that increasing voter turnout across all demographics is an intrinsic good and I am curious at what steps might be taken to improve participation.”

mix haynes chart medicaid

Political scientists and economists are very interested in understanding the costs of voting, and “the relationship between welfare programs and civic participation has also been studied,” Haynes noted. But Haynes was unable to find any research specifically on voter turnout and Medicaid.

With the advice and assistance of his faculty mentor, Angela K. Lewis, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Government and director of UAB's political science program, Haynes examined county-level turnout across three states between 2004 and 2012: Alabama, North Carolina and Ohio.

 mix haynes chart 1

Ohio, which spends the most on Medicaid of those three states, had by far the highest voter turnout in counties where low-income voters make up less than 7.5 percent of the total population. In counties with populations of low-income voters above 14 percent, Ohio was also leaps and bounds ahead of the other two states in 2004 — 43 percent of these counties had a turnout above 70 percent. But in 2008 and 2012, those same counties had much lower turnout than low-income counties in either North Carolina or Alabama. North Carolina, which funds Medicaid at a level just a bit lower than Ohio ($7,462 per capita, compared with Ohio’s $7,510 per capita and Alabama’s $5,410), had the highest turnout among low-income counties in 2008 and 2012.

 mix haynes chart 2

Haynes presented his results at UAB’s annual Spring Expo, a showcase of undergraduate research and scholarship. Although the study was inconclusive, “data gathered provides additional evidence to back the assertion that there is a relationship between Medicaid and voter turnout,” he said. Haynes will graduate at the end of April, and plans to pursue a doctorate in political science.

“I believe in practical application of research results,” Haynes said. “Hopefully, this exploratory research will be a springboard for more research questions, either from myself or someone else.”

Back to Top