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Happiness of liberals and conservatives in different countries

Jay Livingston writes:

I recall that you have used my post showing that the happiness of conservatives is related to who’s in power. So you might be interested in this multi-nation study showing the same thing:

Generally, conservatives are happier than non-conservatives. However, “that is mostly the case in conservative countries. In liberal countries, they do not have any advantage.” In Germany, there is hardly any correlation between political ideology and life satisfaction.

It is mostly conservatives who are influenced by their environment. No such correlation was discernible in for people with a liberal attitude.

I’d tell you more but I don’t feel like shelling out $35.95 for the research article. Since all we have to go on is a press release, I’ll have to file this under, Who knows, maybe, maybe not.

P.S. No, the New York Times never ran a correction (see top link above for context).


  1. Jim says:

    Columbia does not subscribe to the journal?

  2. Jon M says:

    Hmm I’m on the Columbia network right now and I can access it. Maybe Andrew was away from the office when he wrote this post.

  3. Andrew [not Gelman] says:

    The basis of this study doesn’t make any sense. There is no multi-national concept of “Conservative” and “Liberal”, so it’s impossible to make cross-nation comparisons. The term “conservative” can be found frequently enough in many countries but its meaning is entirely inextricable from the context of each country; the only consistent commonality is the use of the word itself. “Liberal” is even more incomparable: only in the US is the word Liberal associated with left wing politics, while in every other country its association ranges from centrist (center left or center right) to even right wing. Futhermore, such dichotomous identies don’t even exist in most countries, especially those where multi-party systems which facilitate a broad diversification of political identities. The asinine assumption that America’s unique notion of strict political duality is an applicable framework for comparison of other countries completely fails to take into account the multitude of principal components that form the basis of other identity landscapes, including: populist vs elite, authoritarian vs libertarian, centralist vs decentralist, rural vs urban, establishmentarian vs reformist, etc etc etc…

    • Andrew says:

      Andrew [not me]:

      I agree that political attitudes are multidimensional and that cross-national studies are difficult but I disagree that cross-national comparisons are impossible. We can learn a lot from simple comparisons if they are based on good measurements. I haven’t read this particular paper so, sure, it could be all crap, I have no idea, but I think this sort of study can be done well.

      • Cervantes says:

        In fact, the paper describes two studies. The first is longitudinal within the US; no international comparisons needed. The second study relies on the World Values Survey (1981–2014), a “large-scale cross- national study on values and attitudes.” In particular:

        Conservative political ideology was measured with the following item: ‘‘In political matters, people talk of ‘‘the left” and ‘‘the right.” How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?” Responses were given on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 = ‘‘left” to 10 = ‘‘right.” Higher scores reflect more conservative ideology.

        And to conclude:

        While the happiness advantage of conservatives has been recently acknowledged in the academic literature and widely discussed in the media, our results indicated that such conclusions might be premature. The results of two studies including over 270,000 individuals from 92 countries surveyed in the last 40 years indicated that conservatives appear to be happier and more satisfied with life than liberals in approximately 65% of these socio-cultural contexts. This suggests that the ideological happiness gap is rather unlikely to represent a psychological universal (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005) and is most probably driven by contextual characteristics present in some and absent in other socio-cultural or political contexts.

  4. YetAnotherNolifeKangaroo says:

    Just ask Sci-Hub:

    Feeding it with the URL you gave generates the link:

  5. Please don’t bash academics who make the informed decision not to pay to publish their work. Throttling academic publication at the source is far worse than making it slightly difficult to get the paper. All you ordinarily have to do is email the corresponding author and they’ll send you a PDF.

    • Andrew says:


      Who’s bashing anyone? I’m just saying that it’s not worth $35.95 to me to read this article. Someone made the informed decision to charge $35.95 for it, and I made the informative decision to spend the money on ten ice cream cones instead.

      • jrc says:

        For a Statistician/Political Scientist, you sure do think like an economist a lot. I’d buy 10 ice cream cones too.

        That said, I was recently contemplating spending an absurd amount of money to have an article published open access at one of those major publishers that charge ridiculous fees to make publicly-funded research publicly available. So I get Joanna’s point and share her frustration, even if it is a little out of context given your broader views on the subject.

  6. I see more possibility for cross-national comparisons of political leanings than for comparisons of happiness levels. You ask two people how happy they are, and they interpret the question differently. For some, “How happy are you?” means “How elevated is your mood at this moment?” For others, it might mean “To what extent has your recent life been free of calamity?” or “To what extent do you have the things you need and want?” or “To what extent are you able to devote yourself to things that matter to you?” In addition, our “happiness ratings” can vacillate over the course of a day and can change in retrospect.

    I checked the study to see whether the survey defined “happiness” in any precise way. It did not. The question was: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days. Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”

    If I were answering it, I don’t know whether I would say “very happy” or “pretty happy,” nor would I be sure of the difference.

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