Presidential Elections, Divided Politics, and Happiness in the U.S.

77 Pages Posted: 22 May 2020

See all articles by Sergio Pinto

Sergio Pinto

University of Maryland; Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), DINÂMIA'CET

Panka Bencsik

University of Chicago

Tuugi Chuluun

Loyola University Maryland

Carol Graham

Brookings Institution - Center on Social and Economic Dynamics; University of Maryland

Date Written: February 14, 2020

Abstract

We use Gallup data and a regression discontinuity approach to examine the effects of the 2016 and 2012 U.S. presidential election outcomes on subjective well-being across party identification, relying primarily on evaluative (life satisfaction) and hedonic (positive and negative affect) indicators. We find that both elections had a strong negative well-being effect on those who identified with the losing party while generating little or no increase in well-being for those who identified with the winning party. Consequently, both elections had a net negative well-being effect. The negative well-being effects on the losing side were larger in 2016 than in 2012, by a factor of three on some indicators, and were driven mainly by women and middle-income households. Furthermore, local voting patterns did not have a meaningful impact on individual well-being and the well-being effect was not driven by the results of congressional elections taking place the same day. In 2016, the election also changed respondents’ perceptions about the economy, their financial status, and their community. The well-being of Independents was negatively affected in 2012, but data on partisan leanings of Independents available in 2016 show that the well-being effect on Independents are similar in direction, but smaller in magnitude, to those of the party they lean toward. For both elections, hedonic well-being gaps across party affiliation dissipate within two weeks, but there is substantial persistence in evaluative well-being gaps, especially in expected life satisfaction. Following the 2016 election, the latter gap persisted throughout 2017, peaking during the inauguration period.

Keywords: elections, political parties, subjective well-being, life satisfaction, emotions, voting

JEL Classification: D72, I31

Suggested Citation

Pinto, Sergio and Bencsik, Panka and Chuluun, Tuugi and Graham, Carol, Presidential Elections, Divided Politics, and Happiness in the U.S. (February 14, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3586049 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3586049

Sergio Pinto (Contact Author)

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), DINÂMIA'CET ( email )

Portugal

Panka Bencsik

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Tuugi Chuluun

Loyola University Maryland ( email )

4501 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21210-2699
United States

Carol Graham

Brookings Institution - Center on Social and Economic Dynamics ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
(202) 797-6022 (Phone)
(202) 797-2968 (Fax)

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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