Is Health Politics Different?

Posted: 25 Jun 2012

Date Written: June 2012


The aging of the global population, combined with changes in technology and cultural understandings of disease and the body, have thrust discussion and contestation over health into the center of local, national, and global politics. Is the politics of health different from the politics of other policy domains? On a number of dimensions, I conclude that it is. Voters and politicians in the developed world appear more likely to accept redistributive claims with respect to health than they are in other policy areas. Nations vary less widely in spending on health than on other functions of government and policy. Moral claims made about health are more likely to attach to its politics than are moral claims about the environment, labor, finance, and energy. More than these other realms, health politics encompasses issues regarding identity, the human body, and other personal matters that endow the health arena with greater significance. Bureaucratic agencies of state are more involved in the provision and regulation of health politics than in other areas, and the science-related nature of state expertise allows medical science itself to be sculpted in deeply political and administrative ways. The article concludes with reasons why political scientists should approach cross-policy generalizations cautiously, and with a call for greater engagement with health politics—to do for political science what health economics, the history of medicine, and medical sociology have done for other social science disciplines.

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Daniel, Is Health Politics Different? (June 2012). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 15, pp. 287-311, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Carpenter (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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