Why US doctors tend to donate to Democrats

Some 55 percent of physician donors backed Democrats in the last election cycle, says a new study. The liberal tilt is attributed to more women becoming doctors, and more physicians working for nonprofit healthcare organizations instead of going into private practice

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte)
Dr. Amy Hilmer interviews Curtis Shannon about his medical history at Places for People in St. Louis, in February 2015. A new study shows more doctors support Democrats than Republicans.

American physicians remained more likely to donate to Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections even as voters passed control of Congress to the Republican party, a study finds.

While the percentage of doctors contributing to Republicans has for the most part been declining since the mid-1990s, 55 percent of physician donors backed Democrats in the last election cycle, just as they did in 2012, according to the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"There is this traditional notion out there that if you are a physician, you are a Republican, and we're now seeing that the profession as a whole is on the Democratic side," said senior study author Dr. David Rothman, a researcher at Columbia University's Center on Medicine as a Profession. "We believe it's going to be a long term trend."

The shift in political party allegiance among physicians is probably a byproduct of changes in how medicine is practiced and who is entering the profession, Rothman said. More women are becoming doctors, and more physicians are working for nonprofit healthcare organizations instead of going into private practice, he said.

"The Democratic allegiance of women physicians is even greater than women in the general public," Rothman said. "And if you are salaried versus an entrepreneurial physician you are again more likely to contribute to the Democratic side."

The researchers adjusted the dollar value of contributions to 2012 dollars and excluded single contributions greater than $1 million, including $43 million donated in 2012 by Miriam Adelson, a physician married to billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Over time, male physicians have consistently favored Republicans more than female doctors have. Surgeons have been more likely than pediatricians to back Republicans. And, physicians at for-profit practices have also been more Republican-leaning in their donations than doctors at not-for-profits.

Shifting loyalties within the physician community aren't the result of doctors changing their minds about who to back, the researchers wrote. Instead, the tilt to the left reflects more conservative physicians retiring or choosing not to donate, and more liberal people entering the profession or opting to contribute.

"This trend is going to be pretty lasting, and I think you are going to see a gradual creep in the direction of the Democrats for a while," said Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University who wasn't involved in the study.

For the foreseeable future, physicians will probably be fairly evenly split in party loyalty, Skocpol said.

"The parties are going to be competing for the doctor vote," she said. "It will probably help them to be influential."

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1c9i5E4 JAMA Internal Medicine, online April 27, 2015.

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