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Indicators of deprivation, voting patterns, and health status at area level in the Republic of Ireland
  1. C Kelleher1,
  2. A Timoney2,
  3. S Friel1,
  4. D McKeown3
  1. 1Department of Health Promotion, Clinical Science Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Republic of Ireland
  2. 2Ballsbridge, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
  3. 3Department of Public Health, Western Health Board, Merlin Park Hospital, Galway
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor C Kelleher, Department of Health Promotion, Clinical Science Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Republic of Ireland;


Study objective: To determine what relation, if any, exists between mortality patterns, indicators of deprivation, general lifestyle and social attitudes, as exemplified by general election voting pattern, in the Republic of Ireland. A relation has been demonstrated previously between voting and mortality patterns in the United Kingdom.

Design: Cross sectional ecological study using three data sources. Standardised mortality ratios (SMR) were based on mortality rates at county level and 1996 census data from the Central Statistics Office, 1997 general election first preference voting data in all 41 constituencies were aggregated to county level. Selected reported measures of health status, lifestyle and social circumstances are from the first ever National survey on lifestyles, attitudes and nutrition (SLAN). This study comprised adults over 18 years sampled by post using the electoral register from 273 representative district electoral divisions. Univariate inter-relations were examined at individual level for the dataset as a whole, adjusting for age and at aggregated level for 26 county borough areas, which included the two largest cities and for 22 county areas, which afforded correlation with voting pattern, using the method of Pearson's correlation coefficient.

Participants: 1 806 932 votes were cast nationally at the 1997 general election, representing a voter turnout of 65.92 %. There was an overall response rate of 62% to SLAN comprising 6539 adults (47% male). The demographic pattern of survey respondents was consistent with that of the general population over 18 years.

Main results: At individual level there was a large number of highly significant inter-relations between indicators of deprivation, various measures of self rated health status and lifestyle factors. Aggregated at 26 county level percentage unemployed (r=0.408, p=0.038), and level of education (r=0.475, p=0.014) related significantly to SMR and inversely to both fruit and vegetable consumption (r=−0.672, p=0.001) and excess alcohol consumption among men (r=−595, p=0.003). Those rating their health as fair or poor were more likely to report a poor quality of life (r=0.487, p=0.022), to have none or primary school education only (r=0.428, p=0.047), or to have a means tested medical services card (r=0.428, p=0.047). There was no significant relation between SMR and voting pattern for the two main political parties (67.28% first preferences) but a significant relation with left wing voting (r=0.446, p=0.037). Fianna Fail voting pattern was inversely related to level of dissatisfaction with health (r= −0.59, p<0.05). There was a positive significant relation between left wing voting and dissatisfaction with health (r=0.51, p<0.02) and rate of smoking (r=0.47, p=0.03). Smoking pattern also related positively to rates of voter abstention (r=0.526, p=0.12).

Conclusions: These data are consistent with those in other countries in showing a relation between deprivation indicators and lifestyle, but differ in that no relation with SMR and the votes cast for the main parties was seen in a country with a mainly centre right voting pattern. The relation between left wing voting pattern and some indicators of deprivation and lifestyle suggest that party political voting patterns and affiliations could be a useful indicator of vertical social capital. However, its variability as a measure across countries suggests that the inter-relation between sociocultural and economic factors and the consequent influence on health status is not straightforward.

  • voting pattern
  • SMR
  • deprivation
  • social capital

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