Labor voters cheer up

Happiness research always finds that right-wing people are happier than left-wing people. And so it was again in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009.

Questions: If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole …
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Labor, Liberal, National or what?

But as you can see in the figure, Labor identifiers have cheered up compared to the 2007 AuSSA, which was mostly carried out during the last months of the Howard government. The ‘very happy’ happiness gap has halved from a Coalition lead of 12% in 2007 to 6% in 2009. The proportion of very happy Coalition identifiers has dropped by only one percentage point, so the explanation is happier Labor supporters rather than less happy Coalition supporters.

17 thoughts on “Labor voters cheer up

  1. Yes, happier ….. of course you might be happier if you simply choose to disregard problems such as global warming. Should we all do that? When science tells us there’s a problem we can just say no. There is no problem because I don’t believe there is one.


  2. Russell – These findings go back before anyone worried about global warming. In my view political beliefs and political events don’t have very much influence on happiness levels, but that there are other variables affecting both happiness and political views.

    But there are interesting questions at the margins, eg whether the constant emphasis on misery in some left-wing ideology does have a depressing effect on some people. Or is it just that people who are unhappy are attracted to ideologies than fit with their predisposition?


  3. Global warming is just one example, but a good one.

    I suppose richer people (right-wing=richer?) can also insulate themselves from problems: your children can go to very nice schools, your elderly parents can be placed in very nice retirement homes, you can pleasurably anticipate nice holidays etc. There’re always lots of people worse off than you – your cleaner for example.

    Agree – some / a lot of left wing ideology is depressing – you even have an idea of what’s coming when you hear Late Night Live’s theme music, compared to Counterpoint’s snappy tune.

    It’s interesting how these two poles – fun and misery – are becoming more hyper these days. You can’t actually watch the news because, apparently, there is no good news. Every instance of slaughter and disaster is presented, pointlessly, every night. The fun is manic, crazy, wierd and has become the whole purpose of some people’s lives.

    I’m becoming less concerned whether I’m happy or sad – I just want to hang on to being sane.


  4. The left wing is about speeding up change; the right wing is about restraining change. It stands to reason that people who are unhappy are going to vote for the side that wants to speed that change up. (Although classical liberals/libertarians might be right wing, I think they make up a relatively small proportion of right wing voters. That is my assumption at least; if it doesn’t hold then my interpretation falls flat on its face.)


  5. I dunno Alexander – Jeff Kennett seemed to like speeding things up. All right wingers seem happy to speed up economic ‘reform’, even if they don’t like the speed of cultural change.
    I’m wondering about control over one’s life – are more right-wingers self-employed, have paid off mortgages, have professions that are in demand (lawyers, economists and their ilk)? Are more left-wingers employed in the public sector. The big advantage in the public sector is supposed to be security rather than remuneration, which is fine if we have long, deep recessions, but how can we be happy after such a long period of prosperity? All we can hope for is a depression.


  6. I’m with Russell. I don’t think it has anything to do with being generally for or against change – left and right both occupy that position at various times. It has far more to do with feeling in control of your life. I had some evidence in the first link, but here is the key paragraph:

    For example, in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2005 those who agreed or strongly agreed that they had a good chance of improving their standard of living were more than twice as likely as those who disagreed or strongly disagreed to rate themselves at 9 or 10 on a 0 to 10 happiness scale. By lesser margins, those who thought that they could get a new job at least as good as their current one, and those who enjoyed having a lot of choices, were significantly happier than those who thought it would be difficult to get a new job or did not enjoy having choices.


  7. I think you are all missing the point here.

    Whether one is happy or not has mostly to do with a natural predisposition, genetics, early experience, temperament … whatever.
    Given that, what sort of politics would YOU be attracted to if you were disgruntled, unhappy, critical, intollerent, paranoid, hateful, angry, disatisfied? … Exactly. and there you have it.

    Another survey I read back in the sixties at Melbourne Uni [and I regret to this day not having noted a reference] claimed that conservatives had better sex lives than the Left. I thought that there was some justice in that fact. It might also suggest more stability and better marriage outcomes amongst the Right.


  8. Andrew M – That’s broadly the position I take, though circumstances can clearly have an effect, albeit usually with eventual reversion to a person’s basic happiness setpoint. But I don’t think we can completely rule out ideology having some independent effect, even if the direction is mostly in the other way.


  9. Another survey … claimed that conservatives had better sex lives than the Left.

    One only needs to recall the adventures of various Tory politicians over the years – often involving paraphenalie such as gas masks, bulldog clips, lengths of hose and closets – to recognise the truth in that!


  10. Right-wing people are more likely to be Christian than secularists. That’s one reason why they are more optimistic. Peter Schweizer explores this in his book, Makers and Takers.

    Re: “Global Warming”

    Conservatives don’t worry about “global warming” because climate change is natural. Left-wingers want to control what goes on in our kitchens, living rooms, and the like. (Not a recipe for happiness.)


  11. One only needs to recall the adventures of various Tory politicians over the years – often involving paraphenalie such as gas masks, bulldog clips, lengths of hose and closets – to recognise the truth in that!

    You too seem to be up there with the latest fashions, Tom. May I ask what you use a hose for?


  12. Inevitably, a difference between lefties and righties has to turn into yet more “proof” that left-wingers are inherently nicer/more decent/smarter people. That notion that such broad political opinion groupings display moral character is deeply silly.

    I can see that, for example, seeing existing society as embodying a lot of human achievement is likely to be associated with higher levels of happiness than being endlessly conscious of/concerned about flaws, but not a lot flows from that, surely.


  13. Which, come to think of it, would connect to a sense of control over events: a sense that achievement is manifestly possible would make one more inclined to a sense of control (and vice versa) than a sense that flaw and failure is pervasive .


  14. This debate brought a little smile to my face. For what its worth I believe conservatives may be happier because they tend to speak from a position of privilege or in support of the status quo while those of us on the left lean towards empathising with the less fortunate be they workers, refugees, feminists or the disabled or the Yellow Bellied Parrot and other seemingly lost causes. Clearly idealism and the once popular Australian habit of sticking up for the underdog are not causes of easy happiness (who can fail to notice that Tony and Julie are the smilingest faces in Australian politics while Bob Brown is its eternal undertaker. However, none of this makes me any sadder or more conservative.
    The Greens it seems shall hold the balance of power in 33 days and perhaps, just perhaps Joy Cometh in the Morning.


  15. The notion that a lot of left-wingers are not in a position of privilege is risible. Nor that there are not plenty of “right wingers” who are not in positions of privilege.
    And having a sense of the society as embodying a considerable amount of human achievement is not the same as “supporting the status quo”.


  16. Everyone seems to be reading a lot into what are, when it comes down to it, very minor differences in the above charts.

    To me, it’s more remarkable how similar they are then how different!


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