Becker Friedman Institute

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

We examine the effects of the 2016 and 2012 U.S. presidential election outcomes on the subjective well-being of Democrats and Republicans using large-scale Gallup survey data and a regression discontinuity approach. We use metrics that capture two dimensions of well-being – evaluative (life satisfaction) and hedonic (positive and negative affect) – and document a significant negative impact on both dimensions of well-being for Democrats immediately following the 2016 election and a negative but much smaller impact for Republicans following the 2012 election. However, we found no equivalent positive effect for those identifying with the winning party following either election. The results also vary across gender and income groups, especially in 2016, with the negative well-being effects more prevalent among women and middle-income households. In addition, in 2016 the votes of others living in the respondent’s county did not have a large impact on individual well-being, although there is some suggestive evidence that Democrats in more pro-Trump counties suffered a less negative effect, while Republicans in less pro-Trump and more typically urban counties were actually negatively impacted by the election outcome. We also find evidence that being on the losing side of the election had negative effects on perceptions about the economy, financial well-being, and the community of residence. Lastly, the evaluative well-being gaps between the different party affiliations tend to persist longer, with those in expected life satisfaction lasting until at least the end of 2016, while the hedonic well-being gaps typically dissipate within the two weeks following the election.

Authors: 
Sergio Pinto, University of Maryland
Panka Bencsik, University of Sussex
Tuugi Chuluun, Loyola University Maryland
Carol Graham, The Brookings Institution
Publication Date: 
March, 2019
Publication Status: 
Document Number: 
2019-015
File Description: 
First version, February, 2019