David Frum

07.10.12

Are Conservatives Happier?

AEI's Arthur Brooks raised that question in the New York Times this weekend.

He answered with a claim that conservatives as a group are indeed happier than liberals.

That's not a very surprising finding. On average, whites are happier than minorities; the rich are happier than the poor; the older are happier than the younger; and the married are happier than the single.

And guess what? On average, conservatives tend to be whiter, richer, older, and more married than the American norm; liberals tend to be browner, poorer, younger, and more single than the norm. 

The interesting question for a curious social scientist would be: what happens when you adjust for race/income/age/marital status. Among those of the same race, income, age, and marital status does political ideology make a difference to happiness one way or the other? That is the question that goes unanswered.

(Later in the piece, Brooks notes that religious people are happier than secular people regardless of income, but religious people and political conservatives are too very distinct sub-sets: remember, black Americans are the most religious of all American ethnic groups.)

And yet, there are some things about happiness that can be said more definitively. Last year, the New York Times' data guru Catherine Rampell went in search of the happiest person in America. She found him too:

The New York Times asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America, based on the characteristics that most closely correlated with happiness in 2010. Men, for example, tend to be happier than women, older people are happier than middle-aged people, and so on.

Gallup’s answer: he’s a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year. A few phone calls later and ...

Meet Alvin Wong. He is a 5-foot-10, 69-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. He runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.

Reached by phone at his home on Friday (and referred to The Times by a local synagogue), Mr. Wong said that he was indeed a very happy person. He said that perhaps he manages to be the happiest man in America because “my life philosophy is, if you can’t laugh at yourself, life is going to be pretty terrible for you.”

He continued: “This is a practical joke, right?”