No, Conservatives Aren’t Happier — Any More

My small effort to ameliorate the disparity in Andrew Gelman’s headline:

1.5 million people were told that extreme conservatives are happier than political moderates. Approximately .0001 million Americans learned that the opposite is true.

Andrew is commenting on a Jay Livingston’s great takedown of David Arthur Brooks’ recent column asking “Who is happier about life — liberals or conservatives?”

First, the latest data from the go-to source — the General Social Survey (GSS) – courtesy of Livingston:

extreme conservatives are nearly three times as likely as others to be “not too happy.”

(Andrew helps us by calculating a measure of the statistical significance: very high. “…the standard error for that green bar on the right is approx sqrt(0.3*0.7/80)=0.05.”)

This hasn’t been true until recently. Here’s the cumulative measure since ’72 (essentially averaging all the surveys over all those years):

Extreme conservatives have lost their happiness advantage, and their unhappiness has skyrocketed. (Brooks is citing a 2006 Pew study (PDF) showing higher “very happy” numbers among Republicans.)

What’s changed? Maybe the demographic tidal wave is hitting the beach. (Don’t believe me? Ask Pat Buchanan.) And the self-described “extreme conservatives” — who are at least 89% white (more) — with their backs against the seawall, really, really don’t like it. I mean goddamitalltohell, there’s a black man in the oval office!

I can’t leave without including Livingston’s comments on Brooks’ slimily implicit and unsubstantiated accusation of confirmation bias among social scientists.

“…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.”

(Note that Brooks is careful not to say that the research actually shows this, though it does. Instead, the research – most of it by those unhappy liberals – is “dedicated to showing” conservatives in a bad light. Sort of like the research “dedicated to showing” that planet Earth is getting warmer – another liberal conspiracy.)

Cross-posted at Asymptosis.