Good political fortune not helping Democrat unhappiness

You’d think that these were happy times for the American left. The Bush Presidency is ending in dismal failure, as they always thought it would. The Democrat candidate for the Presidency is now a near-certainty, and better still he is an African-American near-certainty. They’ll control the Congress. ‘Neolilberalism’ is being blamed for the financial market meltdown, and left-wing ideas about regulation are suddenly respectable. The American rich have lost amazing amounts of money; American inequality will be vastly diminished (sure, by tearing the rich down rather than by helping the poor, but the left has always favoured both strategies).

Yet according to latest Pew happiness research, Democrats remain much less happy than Republicans. They are more than twice as likely to say that they are ‘not too happy’. And Republicans are half as likely again as Democrats to describe themselves as ‘very happy’. The 25% Democrat ‘very happy’ is at its lowest level in a time series going back to 1972.

According to Pew, Republicans are happier than Democrats because:

# They have more money
# They have more friends
# They are more religious
# They are healthier
# They are more likely to be married
# They like their communities better
# They like their jobs more
# They are more satisfied with their family life
# They like the weather better
# They have fewer financial worries
# They’re more likely to feel that individuals – rather than outside forces – control their own success or failure
# They have more of what they most value in life. (No, it’s not money).

But after running some regressions, they think that Republican identification still adds something on top of all these social and economic advantages. I hypothesised earlier in the year that

both lower average happiness and leftism have a common link to a weaker sense of personal control and optimism

and I think this fits with both the Pew link to a sense of control and current American economic conditions. The recession that is coming from the financial market meltdown is exactly the kind of thing that would reinforce the negativity of people who feel swept along by forces outside their control. People with a greater sense of personal control are likely to feel more resilience and optimism as recession hits, that they will be ok and/or that good times will return. So the worldview that leads to Republican identification provides psychological protection even as disaster strikes. And in the glass half-empty world of Democrat identifiers, even an Obama victory and the downfall of the rich isn’t going to cheer them up.

6 thoughts on “Good political fortune not helping Democrat unhappiness

  1. So what you’re saying Andrew is that those Pew Republicans are clinging to their guns and religion … after all, nothing gives you a feeling of control like a loaded firearm


  2. Today’s news, fools are happy, republicans are really happy and you can’t wipe the smile of the face of those claiming to be neocons.


  3. Just because self-efficacy refers to a state of mind doesn’t mean it’s not grounded in objective reality. People with money ARE more in control of their lives than those without, and many others who believe they are ‘swept along by forces outside their control’ have good objective reasons for thinking so.


  4. Ken – I agree that’s part of it, but how people approach the world matters as well. Fatalistic attitudes mean that people don’t do things that might help their situation. And optimism is pyschologically protective even when it is not well-based.


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