Presidential Elections, Divided Politics, and Happiness in the U.S.
77 Pages Posted: 22 May 2020
Date Written: February 14, 2020
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: Suggested Citation