You are happier when your party wins

The unjustly-banned-in UAE Will Wilkinson directs our attention to an interesting paper:

We include in our partisan happiness equations a variable that measures
the ideological position of the government in power. It indicates that
when the government leans more to the right ideologically, right-wing
individuals tick up their happiness scores. In the same periods,
left-wing individuals declare themselves to be more dissatisfied with
their lives. The size of the coefficient is large and highly

Will comments:

My favorite hypothesis is that coalitional success enters directly into
the welfare function. Now, this is fascinating for all sorts of
reasons. For instance, it would seem, then, that the need to maintain a
distinct and coherent coalitional identity will limit median-voter
convergence…The general application of this kind of thinking is that partisans will
try to convince their side that being out of power is really
depressing, with the result that no matter who is in power, half the
population is really depressed.

My take: Government funding of the arts is one example.  In many countries the mere existence of government arts programs does more for citizen utility than the results of those programs.  People enjoy being affiliated with a government that has artistic or aesthetic aspirations.  I don’t intend this as a reductio ad absurdum.  It could well be that arts spending is a relatively cheap way of "buying off" these feelings.  For instance, the relevant alternative might be an obnoxious form of patriotism, or perhaps higher levels of government spending on more costly (i.e., universal) areas.

That being said, I am not convinced by the result more generally.  You are supposed to pretend you care about your candidate, but this might be a framing effect.  You adopt a happy or unhappy stance, partly to signal group loyalties, but your daily happiness is fairly robust to who delivers the State of the Union addresss (policy effects aside, of course).

Look at me, I am happy, and the U.S. does not have Donald Brash running for Prime Minister.


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