Friday, July 25, 2003


Prof. James Lindgren, Director of the Demography of Diversity Project at Northwestern University, was one of those who saw my post and he emailed me with some more information that upsets the conclusions of the Berkeley group. He notes that the Berkeley group (led by Jost) missed out on some very basic survey data which show that conservatives are much more likely to be happy than are Leftists. He writes:

The Jost article claims that conservatives are angry and fearful and it builds on a literature that claims that conservatives are unhappy. I find this strange, given the decades of superb data showing the opposite. In the NORC General Social Survey (a standard social science database, second only to the U.S. Census in use by U.S. sociologists), the GSS asks the standard survey question about happiness in general. In the 1998-2002 GSS, extreme conservatives are much more likely to report being "very happy" than extreme liberals--47.1% to 31.6%. Earlier years show a similar pattern.

This conservative happiness carries over into most other aspects of life as well. Conservatives usually report being happier in their jobs than liberals. In the 2002 GSS, for example 65.2% of extreme conservatives report being "very satisfied" with their jobs in general, while only 50% of extreme liberals report being very satisfied. When the question is broadened to satisfaction with job or housework, a similar pattern obtains. In the 1998-2002 GSS, 61.0% of extreme conservatives reported being very satisfied, compared to 53.6% of extreme liberals.

As to finances, in the 1998-2002 GSS 34% of extreme conservatives report being satisfied with their finances compared to 26.4% of extreme liberals. More extreme liberals (34.5%) than extreme conservatives (25.8%) report being "not at all satisfied" with their finances.

Conservatives usually tend to report less marital unhappiness than liberals. In the 1998-2002 GSS, 5.1% of those who report being "slightly liberal" say that they are "not too happy" in their marriages, compared to 0.9% of those who are "slightly conservative." Ordinary liberals (3.7%) and extreme liberals (8.9%) also differ from ordinary conservatives (2.4%) and extreme conservatives (4.1%) in the levels of reported marital unhappiness. Indeed, in the 1998 GSS, 18.2% of extreme liberals reported that their marriages were "not too happy," while only 1.6% of extreme conservatives reported marital unhappiness.

Earlier General Social Surveys found that conservatives were more satisfied with their health, their friendships, their family life, and the city or place they live--all in all, a remarkably consistent picture.

Another claim in the Jost paper is that conservativism is driven by anger and fear. Again, their claims conflict with some of the highest quality data available. In the 1996 GSS, questions were asked about anger and fearfulness. Extreme conservatives were much less likely to report being mad at someone every day in the last week--7.3% to 24.2% for extreme liberals. Extreme conservatives were also less likely to report being fearful in the last week--32.5% to 56.3% for extreme liberals. In other words, a staggering one-quarter of extreme liberals report being mad at someone EVERY DAY and most extreme liberals report being fearful at least once a week.

I am surprised that the Jost group was not aware of the very strong and remarkably consistent data that conservatives report being happier than liberals about their lives in general, their jobs, their finances, their health, their friendships, their family life, and where they live. Nor does the Jost group deal with the less extensive data suggesting that conservatives are less fearful and less angry than liberals. I will have to look into more of the studies that Jost cites to see why these fairly obvious patterns are missed. I wonder whether Jost relied too much on studies that either used unrepresentative samples (such as undergraduates) or used biased questions or indices -- asking about issues on which conservatives tend to be unhappy but not about issues on which liberals tend to be unhappy. In either event, the Jost group seems to have missed decades of very high quality survey data that undercut their thesis.

There is not much left of the Berkeley claims after that! I wrote back noting that the Berkeley group led by Jost had missed out LOTS of data that did not suit them. In fact I have just put online here (or here) one of the articles they ignored. The article points out in pretty plain terms the circular reasoning and lack of proper scientific caution behind one of the attempts to show that conservatives are "rigid" and "intolerant of ambiguity". The article has been in university libraries for years and academic psychology has very good indexing services so there is no excuse for the article being "overlooked".

There was also a Leftist article some years ago which claimed that conservatives are generally unhappy. I replied to it here. The Jost group missed that too!


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