Republican-leaning counties saw a sharp rise in birth rates compared to Democratic-leaning counties after Donald J. Trump’s surprise win in the 2016 presidential election, reveals a forthcoming study from the University of California San Diego. Democratic counties, on the other hand, experienced a baby slump.
The paper’s authors find that this difference between Republican versus Democratic babies conceived in the first two years of the Trump presidency amounts to between 1 and 2% of the national birth rate.
That’s a seismic partisan shift according to the UC San Diego authors, Gordon Dahl, professor of economics in the Department of Economics/School of Social Sciences and William Mullins, assistant professor of finance at the Rady School of Management.
“The size of the change is equivalent to changes in birth rates that occur after economic shocks or in response to policies designed to affect birth rates,” said Dahl. “For example, when unemployment drops by 1%, it increases national fertility by 1 to 2%, and when other countries provide a $1,000 subsidy to mothers for having a child, fertility rates rise by about 2%.”
Dahl and Mullins’ paper, to be published by American Economic Review: Insights, is the first study to establish a link between a presidential election and the birth rates of politically aligned groups. The 2016 scenario provided the perfect natural experiment, they say, because the outcome was a surprise and also because the U.S. is so polarized.
The authors cite a radical change in mindsets among members of the two parties as a possible reason behind the difference in birth rates. Former President Trump’s win in 2016 was unexpected by the majority of Americans and it led to a sharp change in optimism among Democrats and Republicans, according to several different surveys. The Civiqs survey, for instance, shows that within four months of the election, Republican and Democratic outlooks on the economy had flipped, with a strong majority of Republican voters saying they believed economic conditions were getting better (reversing formerly pessimistic views) while the opposite was true for Democrats, with most indicating the economy was getting worse.
In addition to comparing births between Democratic and Republican counties, for further analysis the researchers looked within counties at birth rates among Hispanics versus non-Hispanics, since, as they write in their paper, “Hispanics were singled out by the Trump campaign and voted approximately two-to-one for Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
They found Hispanic mothers had fewer babies after the election. The effect was quite strong: a drop in birth rates among Hispanics relative to non-Hispanics was equivalent to 2.3% of the national birth rate – with an even larger effect when compared to groups that heavily voted in favor of Trump, rural whites and evangelical whites.
The researchers also looked at previous elections. Barack Obama, who was long projected to win the presidency in both 2008 and in 2012, had no effect on birth rates; however they found a similar effect in 2000, when George W. Bush was elected after Al Gore was favored to win. Yet, the change was much smaller compared to the Trump presidency.
“Our research really illustrates how polarized the country has become over the last 20 years,” said Mullins. “Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided on their policy priorities and worries about the future, including on topics such as the environment, inequality, moral values and immigration. Polling data on voters’ satisfaction with ‘the way things are going in the U.S.’ reveals members of the two parties see the country through almost completely different lenses.”
To assess the relationship between presidential elections and national fertility rates, the researchers used birth certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Since party affiliation is not listed on birth certificates, they compared the NCHS information to county-level Census Bureau data on the number of Democratic and Republican voters in the 2016 election. To gauge the effects on Hispanic mothers, they were able to use the ethnicity listed on birth certificates.
The American Economic Review: Insights paper, “Partisan Fertility and Presidential Elections” was also co-authored by Runjing Lu, a UC San Diego economics doctoral alum and assistant professor of finance at the Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta.