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Docs increasingly support Dems as more women join the profession


By Paul Demko
Posted: June 2, 2014 - 5:15 pm ET
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Physicians are much more likely to make political contributions than they were two decades ago and their money is more likely to support Democratic candidates, according to a study published Monday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nearly 10% of doctors nationwide made political contributions of at least $200 during the 2012 election cycle, up from 2.6% in 1992. During the 1992 election cycle, 11,801 doctors contributed the equivalent of $20 million when adjusted for inflation. Two decades later, 67,852 physicians contributed a total of $143.2 million to federal candidates and causes.

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Doctors have traditionally given disproportionately to Republican candidates and causes, the study shows. But during the 2012 election cycle, less than half of their contributions—47%—were directed to Republicans.

That change is being driven by a chasm between the political proclivities of male and female physicians. During the 11 election cycles studied, 57% of contributions from male doctors went to Republican candidates, compared with only 31% for female doctors. During the 2012 election cycle, that divide was even starker: 52.3% of contributions by men went to Republicans, compared with just 23.6% of contributions by women.

The study also found sharp differences in contribution patterns depending on the area of medicine practiced. Roughly three quarters of contributions made by male orthopedic surgeons, for example, supported Republican candidates. By contrast, less than a third of contributions by male psychiatrists supported Republicans. Among women, roughly half of anesthesiologists who made contributions backed Republicans, compared with just a quarter of female family practitioners.

“If surgery is in your name, you're on the Republican side,” said David Rothman, director of the Center for the Study of Science and Medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a co-author of the study. “If pediatrics or psychiatry are in your name, you're on the Democratic side.”

The other authors of the report are Adam Bonica, a political science professor at Stanford University, and Howard Rosenthal, a political science professor at New York University.

The partisan split in political contributions by physicians has fluctuated since 1992, but the overall trend has been a movement away from Republicans and toward Democrats. In two of the last three election cycles, a majority of contributions made by doctors went to Democrats. By contrast, Republicans received the majority of support in every cycle from 1992 to 2006.

Rothman points out that the trends are unlikely to reverse anytime soon. Women are expected to make up an increasingly large share of the physician pool, with women representing roughly half of new medical school graduates.

“We presumed physicians politically were on the right,” said Rothman, noting that 16 of the 20 physicians serving in the House or Senate are Republicans. “What surprised us is that that is no longer true. The profession is polarized.”

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko


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