Saturday, March 18, 2017

Depressed by politics?

Arthur Brooks reports that people who are more interested in politics are less happy:  "I analyzed the 2014 data from the General Social Survey collected by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to see how attention to politics is associated with life satisfaction. The results were significant. Even after controlling for income, education, age, gender, race, marital status and political views, being 'very interested in politics' drove up the likelihood of reporting being 'not too happy' about life by about eight percentage points." I would have expected the opposite relationship, mostly because of the "locus of control" issues he discusses later in the article--basically, people who feel like they have control will be more interested in the world in general, including politics, and be happier.

Since the article didn't show the details of his analysis, I looked at the relationship.  The GSS has a question "How interested would you say you personally are in politics?" with the options "very," "fairly," "not very," and "not at all."  The cross-tabulation:

                                    How happy?
                       very     pretty    not too     N
Very interested         31%        48%        20%    186
Fairly                  33%        57%        10%    522
Not very                27%        60%        13%    354
Not at all              24%        55%        20%    172

Combining all people who didn't say "very interested," about 13% reported being not too happy.  So it looks like Brooks was more or less right.  But in 1990 and 1996, the GSS asked the same question on interest in politics, except that it included a "somewhat interested" category.  The cross-tabulation (combining the two years).

                                   How happy?
                      very      pretty      not too     N
Very interested         43%        48%          8%     335
Fairly                  31%        57%          8%     652
Somewhat                31%        61%         11%     800
Not very                27%        63%         10%     437
Not at all              31%        54%         15%     183

So it looks like I was right:  the more interested you were, the happier you were.  But why was the relationship different in the 1990s and 2014?  My guess is that if someone is very interested in politics, their happiness is affected by the state of political life, and in 2014 most people regarded the state of political life as bad.      

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