A major theme in the debate on Proposition 71, the 2004 California ballot initiative in which voters approved US$3 billion in state funding for stem cell research, was the tension between values-based opposition to the use of embryos in medical research and a focus on the potential health benefits of stem cell therapies. Using a dataset that combines individual-level voting intention data from three Field Poll pre-election surveys and county-level data, the present study finds that moral opposition to Proposition 71 decreased as the local prevalence of chronic diseases and the proportion of elderly residents in respondents’ counties increased. The paper argues that this finding reflects an increase in the salience of the possible benefits of stem cell research that was driven by local conditions, and concludes with a discussion of the implications of this dynamic for the democratic governance of regenerative medicine in the context of an aging society.

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