Saturday, October 31, 2015

See the happy extremist

Since my series of posts on changes the relationship between political views and happiness trailed off into "something happened, but it's hard to say what it was," I wanted to do something that came to a definite conclusion.  Arthur Brooks said "people at the extremes are happier than political moderates."  He speculated that this was because "extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight."  As you can see in this post, no such pattern is present in the GSS:  average happiness increases as you go from left to right, except recently it's fallen off among people who say they are "extremely conservative."  What if you look at happiness by party identification?
Now there is some pattern for strong identifiers to be happier (higher scores on the vertical axis).  And since Democrats are more likely to be single, lower income, and less religious, controlling for those characteristics, as Brooks did, would make the pattern stronger.  But what about the people who identify with another party?  They're not a large group, even in the cumulative GSS, and are usually treated as missing values, but they are less happy than everyone except independents.  And it seems likely that they are more "extreme" than any of the other groups--the two biggest enduring minor parties over the period have been the Libertarians and Greens.  14.7% of the "others" put themselves in one of the extreme ideological categories, higher than any other party group (11.3% of strong Republicans say they are extremely conservative and 1.0% say they are extremely liberal, for a total of 12.3%).  And of course, there's a plausible explanation for why they would be less happy than Democrats or Republicans:  they're dissatisfied with the way things are.

So it doesn't seem to be the case that extremists are happier than moderates.  Rather, as I said a few posts ago, the pattern seems to be that people who are interested in politics are happier than people who aren't.  Further evidence can be seen in the relationship with political views, people who answered "don't know" to the question on political ideology are the least happy group.

Brooks didn't give a link to his source, or any information about it, but if I were a betting man, I'd bet he did one of two things:  (1) mixed up the patterns for party identification and ideology or (2) used a survey that counted "don't knows" on a liberal/conservative rating  as moderates, which is sometimes done.

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