Data from the General Social Survey are used to examine the political polarization in the United States, by examining presidential periods from 1972 to 2018. Our findings indicate that there has been an increased correlation between party identification and ideological identification, resulting in a steady shift towards the extremes. Furthermore, we explore how subjective wellbeing plays a role in driving this polarization. American politics is polarized between happy conservative Republicans and unhappy liberal Democrats. Oscillating in the “happiness gap” between these extremes are median voters whose happiness, low on average, falls the longer in power the party of the opposing ideology. It is the rise and fall of median voters’ unhappiness that drives the regime change between the two major political parties in the United States.
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People sorting themselves in communities based on like-mindedness.
We use subjective well-being and happiness interchangeably in this article.
There are interesting subcultural variations. Podhoretz (2010) asks why American Jews “live rich but vote poor.” American Jews, despite their material success in America, vote predominantly for Democrats. Podhoretz says this is because the Democratic Party represents the closest counterparts to the forces on the left that favored Jewish emancipation in Europe. As a result, the American Jewish attitude towards Christian conservatives is most frequently one of contempt. There is a strong echo of the Menshevik Jews who fled to America, with a gradual attenuation of Marxism into social democracy and social democracy into the liberalism that has become the very essence of American Jewish culture.
Few studies have explored the topic. Di Tella and MacCulloch 2005 found that people are happier when their chosen party is in power, while Flavin and Keane (2012) observed that SWB is related to turnover intentions. Goldman et al (2019), found that despair is associate with the county-level Trump vote swing in 2016, while a few studies have found that SWB is correlated with voting intention and outcome in Europe and the US (Herrin et al., 2018; Liberini, Redoano and Proto 2017; Ward 2020).
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We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.
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Berry, B.J.L., Valente, R.R. & Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. Median Voters’ Happiness Cycles in the United States Along the Nation’s Principal Political Fault Line. Applied Research Quality Life (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-023-10243-3