The Sad Losers of Politics

Pierce, Rogers and Snyder find that political partisans are more upset about an election loss than a random sample of parents were upset by the Newtown shootings.

Partisan identity shapes social, mental, economic, and physical life. Using a novel dataset, we
study the well-being consequences of partisan identity by examining the immediate hedonic
impact of electoral loss and victory. We employ a quasi-experimental regression
discontinuity model that minimizes many of the inferential biases associated with surveys.
First, we find that elections strongly affect the well-being of partisan losers (for about a
week), but minimally impact partisan winners. This is consistent with research on the goodbad
hedonic asymmetry. Second, the well-being consequences to partisan losers are intense.
To illustrate, we show that partisans are affected two times more intensely by their party
losing the U.S. Presidential Election than both respondents with children were to the
Newtown Shootings and respondents living in Boston were to the Boston Marathon
Bombings. We discuss implications regarding the centrality of partisan identity to the self
and its well-being, and the methodological contribution.

The authors suggest that the happiness effects of political losses are surprisingly large but they would have done better to compare elections with something people really care about, sports (and here). Sports and politics share the same irrational attachment to a team, the only difference being that the rivalries and hatreds of the former rarely lead to as much death and destruction as the latter.

I feel fortunate to have never been emotionally invested in the winner of any election. It’s all a carnival of buncombe to me–a giant robbers cave experiment for the amusement of those in the know.

Addendum: the authors make one error, on the eve of the election the Iowa political markets were not predicting a close election but a strong Obama win (the authors confuse the vote share market with the winner take all market.)

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.


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