Aggregator • Wake up America • ID=79399
By Susan Duclos
The starting question in the NYT op-ed is "Who is happier about life — liberals or conservatives?
The answer might seem straightforward. After all, there is an entire academic literature in the social sciences dedicated to showing conservatives as naturally authoritarian, dogmatic, intolerant of ambiguity, fearful of threat and loss, low in self-esteem and uncomfortable with complex modes of thinking. And it was the candidate Barack Obama in 2008 who infamously labeled blue-collar voters 'bitter,' as they 'cling to guns or religion.' Obviously, liberals must be happier, right?
According to studies, wrong, liberals are not happier than conservatives, just the opposite.
Wrong. Scholars on both the left and right have studied this question extensively, and have reached a consensus that it is conservatives who possess the happiness edge. Many data sets show this. For example, the Pew Research Center in 2006 reported that conservative Republicans were 68 percent more likely than liberal Democrats to say they were 'very happy' about their lives. This pattern has persisted for decades. The question isn't whether this is true, but why.
In other words, conservatives tend to focus on their happiness and making decisions that will make them happier while encouraging others to stand on their own and make their own happiness, while liberals tend to focus on their unhappiness and begrudge conservatives being happy and accusing them of not caring about the misery of others.
Many conservatives favor an explanation focusing on lifestyle differences, such as marriage and faith. They note that most conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person.
The story on religion is much the same. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, conservatives who practice a faith outnumber religious liberals in America nearly four to one. And the link to happiness? You guessed it. Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don't depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.
Whether religion and marriage should make people happy is a question you have to answer for yourself. But consider this: Fifty-two percent of married, religious, politically conservative people (with kids) are very happy — versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids.
An explanation for the happiness gap more congenial to liberals is that conservatives are simply inattentive to the misery of others. If they recognized the injustice in the world, they wouldn't be so cheerful. In the words of Jaime Napier and John Jost, New York University psychologists, in the journal Psychological Science, 'Liberals may be less happy than conservatives because they are less ideologically prepared to rationalize (or explain away) the degree of inequality in society.' The academic parlance for this is 'system justification.'
The data show that conservatives do indeed see the free enterprise system in a sunnier light than liberals do, believing in each American's ability to get ahead on the basis of achievement. Liberals are more likely to see people as victims of circumstance and oppression, and doubt whether individuals can climb without governmental help. My own analysis using 2005 survey data from Syracuse University shows that about 90 percent of conservatives agree that 'While people may begin with different opportunities, hard work and perseverance can usually overcome those disadvantages.' Liberals — even upper-income liberals — are a third less likely to say this.
So conservatives are ignorant, and ignorance is bliss, right? Not so fast, according to a study from the University of Florida psychologists Barry Schlenker and John Chambers and the University of Toronto psychologist Bonnie Le in the Journal of Research in Personality. These scholars note that liberals define fairness and an improved society in terms of greater economic equality. Liberals then condemn the happiness of conservatives, because conservatives are relatively untroubled by a problem that, it turns out, their political counterparts defined.
Putting religion and marital status aide for a moment, look at the emphasized portion of the quote above and it pretty much says it all.
Conservatives believe in the power of the person, personal responsibility for their happiness and success and liberals believe in big government and see everyone as a victim.
Conservatives believe in people and their ability to find opportunities and turn them into successes and liberals doubt people have the ability to overcome circumstances.
Is it any wonder why conservatives are much happier than liberals?