A new study out of Penn State shows that Donald Trump fared better in the presidential election in areas with higher rates of mortality from drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
They include places in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.
Some experts call these losses “deaths of despair,” and the study’s author said the correlation speaks to the overwhelming frustration some Trump voters have felt over the direction of the country.
In the Industrial Midwest, Appalachia, and New England, Trump significantly outperformed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s election numbers in counties with the highest mortality rates from drugs and suicide, according to the data.
Shannon Monnat, assistant professor at Penn State and author of the study, said poverty does play a large role in the correlation, but it doesn’t explain everything.
“It’s not necessarily low socioeconomic status per se,” she said. “What it really is, is this combination of economic decline and downward mobility that had been building, probably for the last three decades or so.”
Monnat noted that even when controlled for other factors, the correlation between “deaths of despair” and Trump support remains.
She also added that the relationship between drug use and Trump support is not causal.
Rather, it’s representative of decaying community structures and loss of faith in institutions — factors that, among others, led people to vote for a candidate who promised change.
“In these places, jobs and the dignity of work have been replaced by suffering and hopelessness, and the feeling that America really isn’t so great anymore, and that people in power haven’t cared about them or their communities in quite some time,” she said.
The study sourced information from the Centers for Disease Control, the 2016 election results, and county data from the U.S. Census.