May 2017

IZA DP No. 10779: Run For Your Life? The Effect of Close Elections on the Life Expectancy of Politicians

Mark Borgschulte, Jacob Vogler

published in: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 2019, 167, 18 - 32

We use a regression discontinuity design to estimate the causal effect of election to political office on natural lifespan. In contrast to previous findings of shortened lifespan among US presidents and other heads of state, we find that US governors and other political office holders live over one year longer than losers of close elections. The positive effects of election appear in the mid-1800s, and grow notably larger when we restrict the sample to later years. We also analyze heterogeneity in exposure to stress, the proposed mechanism in the previous literature. We find no evidence of a role for stress in explaining differences in life expectancy. Those who win by large margins have shorter life expectancy than either close winners or losers, a fact which may explain previous findings.