Andrew Leigh asks: "are smokers more likely to vote for parties of the right (because they believe in individual liberty) or parties of the left (because they tend to be poorer than non-smokers)?" The answer in the United States is that smokers are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican (but it’s not clear why).
A recent study by Harvard researchers S V Subramanian and Jessica Perkins analyzed data from the 1972 -2006 General Social Surveys. Respondents were asked questions about their political affiliation and whether they smoked. After controlling for "demographic and socioeconomic factors", Republicans were 15% less likely to smoke compared with Democrats.
In his book Democrats and Republicans – Rhetoric and Reality, Joseph Fried cites a number of surveys showing that Republicans are not only more likely to be non-smokers, but are also more likely to have brushed their teeth three or more times in a single day and more likely to belong to a health club. In short, Republicans seem to lead healthier lives than Democrats.
While Republicans may believe in individual liberty, this doesn’t always extend to tolerating smoking in restaurants, hotels and motels. A 2005 Gallup survey found that Republicans were more likely to support smoking bans in these places than Democrats. Data for Australia is harder to find, but a small study in Bunbury Western Australia reported that:
… Liberal Party and Green Party supporters were much more likely to be in favour of a total ban [on smoking in smoking in hotels, bars and nightclub] than Labor Party supporters. These differences reflect smoking status rather than political affiliation (i.e. more Labor supporters than Liberal and Green supporters are smokers).
Subramanian and Perkins write that: "It does not seem implausible … that conservative values at the individual level may be health promoting". For example, it may be that Republicans place more emphasis on self discipline and personal responsibility than Democrats. But it’s difficult to know what is causing what. It may be that Republican allegiance and healthy lifestyle behaviours stem from a common cause.