catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Unhappy lefties

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Liberals may have bad weeks, but they have better lives. Many surveys have confirmed that supporters of right-of-centre parties express more positive views about their lives than supporters of left-of-centre parties. On being informed that his seat of Grandlyer had the nation’s unhappiest residents, local ALP member Anthony Albanese said:

the malaise of his constituents could be explained partly by their sense of compassion: “Most of them don’t know anyone who voted for John Howard – or so they think – and they’re frustrated,” he said. “They can’t believe there are people in Australia who don’t support asylum seekers. Combine that with high mortgages, two working parents, a lack of child care, stress and lack of time, and it affects the quality of their life.

Now I am quite prepared to believe that John Howard’s long reign isn’t helping the mental health of his opponents. In a old Catallaxy Files post back in 2003 I noted, from the same survey series, that Labor voters had lower well-being than Liberal voters. But this wasn’t just because the Liberals were in power. Even when Labor was in office, back in 1993, Labor voters were still less happy than Coalition voters. The same patterns hold in the US – Democrats are less happy than Republicans, regardless of who occupies the White House.

I haven’t seen equivalent Australian research, but the Pew survey people in the US find that this isn’t just because Republicans are richer; at each income level Republican partisans are happier than Democrat partisans. They don’t think it is ideology either – conservative Republicans are happier than conservative Democrats, and liberal Republicans are happier than liberal Democrats. They think it might be religion that explains the differences.

I think it would be worth digging deeper into attitudinal differences between supporters of left and right-wing parties. Some possibilities:

* optimistic people are happier than pessimistic people. Left-wing parties focus on what is wrong with society, making them more attractive to pessimistic people.
* people who have a sense of control over their lives are happier than those who do not: to exaggerate to highlight the point, left-wingers tend to assume that people are hapless victims of social and economic forces beyond their control, while right-wingers tend to believe in individual agency and control (for example, the recent IR debate). People gravitate toward the party that reflects their general sense of these things.

For activists, these perceptions become exaggerated through group polarisation. This is why Howard-haters can seem absurdly negative about Australia under Howard, and their political gloom feeds back into their general state of mind. So while the initial causal path is attitudes to political party, political party involvement can feed back into attitudes, causing additional unhappiness. I’m not sure if the surveys we have can identify enough activists to test this theory, but in principle it is possible: while left-wing activists will always be less happy than average, they will be particularly unhappy when right-of-centre governments are in power.


Written by Admin

February 14, 2006 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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