Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals? Study Casts Doubt

us capitol rotundaAs if endless debates about social and cultural issues aren’t enough to perpetually divide conservatives and liberals, the two groups are locked in another dispute—this one involving happiness. Previous research found that conservative people tend to be happier than liberal people, but a new study suggests this might not be the case. Research into happiness among conservatives and liberals has historically relied on self-reports, but the latest study, published in Science, suggests that liberals display happier body language and speech patterns.

The Case for Liberal Happiness

The study, led by University of California Irvine doctoral student Sean Wojcik, explored behaviors associated with happiness rather than self-reports of positive emotions. Researchers analyzed Congressional Record transcripts, photos of every member of Congress, 47,000 political tweets, and 500 LinkedIn photos. The results suggest that liberals might be at the happier end of the political debate. Liberals were more likely to use positive language. Liberals also were deemed to have smiled more genuinely and intensely in their photos, clearly a judgment call on the part of researchers whose own biases cannot be controlled for.

Who’s Really Happier?

A number of studies have argued that conservatives tend to be happier than liberals, but most of these studies evaluated happiness by simply asking participants how happy they feel. This, Wojcik and his colleagues believe, is an unreliable measure of well-being. The study argues that most people tend to rate themselves higher than average on positive traits, such as intelligence and good driving. Wojcik and his team found that this tendency is stronger among conservatives than liberals.

This might help explain the discrepancy across studies. It could be that conservatives are more likely to say they’re happy, while liberals are more likely to act happy. But if conservatives claim to be happier than they actually are, they might be getting a boost from doing so. The study’s authors say that the tendency to exaggerate positive traits is associated with a number of benefits, including better relationships and more productive work.

References:

  1. Jetten, J., Haslam, S. A., and Barlow, F. K. (2012). Bringing Back the System: One Reason Why Conservatives are Happier Than Liberals is That Higher Socioeconomic Status Gives Them Access to More Group Memberships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(1), 6-13. doi:10.1177/1948550612439721
  2. Political liberals display greater happiness, study shows. (2015, March 12). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150312142909.htm

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  • molly

    molly

    March 20th, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    In my heart I really don’t believe that whether you are happy or not has anything to do with how you lean politically.
    More than anything, at least for me, I think its about the other people that you choose to spend most of your time around and how you choose to occupy your own time.
    I think that if you are surrounded by negativity and never take the time to experience all of the good out there, then naturally you will not be as happy as others who actually are with other positive people and that like what they do.

  • Percy

    Percy

    March 20th, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    how weird- conservatives always seem to be so self assured and confident in their beliefs that I would have put my money $$ on them being the happier of the two/

  • zca

    zca

    March 21st, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Studies like this are simply too unreliable because I think that pretty much everyone is going to lie and stretch the truth about how happy they really are. I am not sure that you can base results when there is nothing that clearly and firmly measurable. You can’t just take someone for their word that they are happy- there has to be something of quality that you can then measure and ascertain and there just isn’t anything in a studly like this. It’s all relative- the things that make you happy could make me miserable, so who’s to say.

  • Margo

    Margo

    March 23rd, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    Liberals always seem more down and depressed to me, unwilling to look at the bright side. I sort of think that those who are conservative seem to have a happier outlook than those who are more liberal.

  • josefina

    josefina

    March 30th, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    maybe happier in different ways but not necessarily happier over all

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