Who’s happier, finds more meaning in life, and is more generous to the poor — liberals or conservatives? Liberals, right? Garrison Keillor voiced the conventional wisdom: “Liberalism is the politics of kindness.”
Liberals, Keillor and myriad others tell us, “stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, [and] the defense of the weak against the powerful.” In stark and horrifying contrast, the “people who call themselves conservatives stand for tax cuts, and further tax cuts, annual tax cuts, the only policy they know. [They] use their refund to buy a gun and an attack dog” to keep everyone away who is not like them. We all know it’s true, right?
Well, not if you go by what serious scholars have found when they investigate this question. Conservatives have happier families, find more meaning in life, are generally happier overall, and donate far more money and time to the needy than their liberal peers.
Also, it’s not just general conservatism per se that makes the difference. The more socially conservative people are, the happier and more content with life they are. And party affiliation matters significantly. Conservative Republicans outpace conservative, moderate, and liberal Democrats. When picking your neighbors, regardless of your politics or beliefs, conservative Republicans are who you want.
Conservatives Are Satisfied with Their Family Lives
New research released by the Institute for Family Studies (you should bookmark them!) demonstrates that conservatives tend to be much more “completely satisfied” with their family lives compared to their liberal friends and neighbors. Forty-one percent of both liberals and moderates report being “completely satisfied” with their family lives, while 52 percent of conservatives do.
Conservatives are also vastly more likely than liberals to believe marriage is essential in creating and maintaining strong families. They are also much more likely to actually be married, 62 versus 39 percent, thus benefiting from all the ways marriage improves overall well-being and contentment, personal happiness, economic security, long-term employment, longevity, better physical and mental health, and more.
These scholars explain that regardless of other basic life characteristics such as family income, marital status, age, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and church attendance, being a conservative increases the odds of being “completely satisfied with family life” by 23 percent, a considerable positive impact given the centrality of these other life factors. Married men and women who believe “marriage is needed to create strong families” have 67 percent greater odds of being completely content with their own family life than married couples who do not believe this.
This data demonstrates the real and positive consequences one’s beliefs have in establishing and maintaining family contentment, among the central and deepest parts of most people’s lives.
Conservatives Are Happier than Liberals
Second, a much larger body of research has long demonstrated that, all things being equal, conservatives tend to be happier overall than their liberal neighbors are. This is truer for social conservatives than for fiscal conservatives, and the more conservative a conservative is, the happier he or she seems to be. That’s not nothing.
A massive study published earlier this year, involving five different data samples from 16 Western countries spanning more than four decades, adds more meat to this topic. These scholars from the University of Southern California found, as they put it, “In sum, conservatives reported greater meaning in life and greater life satisfaction than liberals.”
Of course, both qualities are much deeper and richer than happiness itself. This was the robust and consistent finding in the 16 distinct countries examined. It was generally truer for social conservatives than their fiscal brethren, and the greater-meaning-in-life “slope spiked upward among individuals who were very conservative.”
These scholars explain in their academic parlance that this was true for conservatives “at all reporting periods (global, daily, and momentary).” This is a significant finding. Conservatives experience greater meaning in life across their lives generally, but also daily and at most given moments throughout the day. The researchers conclude these findings are “robust” and that “there is some unique aspect of political conservativism that provides people with meaning and purpose in life.”
Multiple studies consistently show this difference in overall happiness and contentment is not affected by whose party or ideological partisans are in the seats of power in the White House or Congress. It seems as if the beliefs themselves matter most. A good many studies in peer-reviewed journals have found the same thing over the last few decades, such as here, here, here, and this one.
This last study, published in 2012 in the Journal of Research in Personality, explains the important specifics of greater happiness and meaning among conservatives:
In four studies, conservatives expressed greater personal agency (e.g., personal control, responsibility), more positive outlook (e.g., optimism, self-worth), more transcendent moral beliefs (e.g., greater religiosity, greater moral clarity, less tolerance of transgressions), and a generalized belief in fairness, and these differences accounted for the happiness gap.
Another very interesting angle on this topic comes from the folks at the Pew Research Center. They reported in 2010 that it wasn’t just conservatism where the happier folks are found. It’s political party identity as well. Republicans are the happiest, and conservative GOPers are happier than moderate or liberal ones. Conservative Republicans tend to be significantly happier than conservative Democrats, and moderate/liberal Republicans are happier than liberal Democrats.
On top of this, Republicans’ much higher levels of happiness are constant across all income levels, including those earning less than $30,000 annually. So it’s not just the so-called money-grubbing fat cats. And remember, the social conservatives find more meaning in life than the fiscal folks. Money can’t buy happiness, but clearly ideology and party affiliation have something to do with it.
Likewise, regular church attenders are nearly twice as likely to say they are “very happy” than those who seldom or never attend, and this is consistently well-founded in a vast body of literature. So church-going, Republican conservatives are just some of the happiest, most contented folks around.
It is worth mentioning here that Pew says pet owners are no happier than non-pet people, and dog owners are no happier or sadder than cat owners. So there’s that.
Leftist Media and Academia Tell the Public the Opposite
Some liberals might argue that religious, conservative republicans are happier simply because they are mentally ill; they are disassociated with reality and just don’t know any better. They claim this is even demonstrated in scientific research. In fact, one article’s first line in reporting this research was quite blunt: “Anyone who’s wanted to dismiss Republican politics as straightforwardly mean now has some data to back them up.” Land’s sakes.
Some research did appear to show this, and it got a great deal of press. Retraction Watch, however, tells us it had some serious mistakes in its calculations, and an erratum was published by the American Journal of Political Science. In fact, Retraction Watch reports, “The descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed.” The data shows a strong correlation between liberalism and psychoticism, not conservatism. This correction was not widely reported for some curious reason.
Finally, if you had to guess who are more generous with their money and volunteering their time to help those in need, would you guess Democrats or Republicans? Of course, it’s Democrats. Republicans only care for themselves and their own pocketbook. In fact, don’t they want to actually punish the poor for not working hard enough? Well, you would be right if stereotypes were the arbiter of truth. But what does objective research tell us?
There is no debate here. Conservative Republicans are consistently more generous than their Democratic neighbors. This is true among all income levels, including the wealthiest. Republican millionaires give more of their money away to the needy than Democratic millionaires.
The data is so strong that even New York Times columnist Paul Sullivan admitted the “more Republican a county is, the more its residents report charitable contributions.” His colleague at the Times, Nicholas Kristof, who seldom has anything kind to say about Republicans, wrote a column some years ago entitled “Bleeding Heart Tightwads.” He laments that his clan doesn’t fare so well on kindness in the form of real dollars:
Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
Yes, Democrats rock the casbah at confiscating other people’s money for the poor. But ask them to give from their own pockets, and they are precisely what they falsely accuse Republicans of being: Scrooge McDuck.
This remains true by another more everyday measure: tipping. Republicans give at least a 15 percent tip on their bill to food service workers 59 percent of the time, while Democrats do so at a more tightfisted 46 percent of the time. Who would you rather serve if you’re waiting tables to pay off your school loans? That would be those MAGA-hat-wearing people whom others are chasing out of your restaurant.
Redistribution Isn’t Compassion
In his excellent book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism,” Arthur C. Brooks presents what he describes as “a large amount of data all pointing in the same direction.” What is that? He says, “People who favor government income redistribution are significantly less likely to donate to charity than those who do not.” He perceptively notes that for a certain type of ideological American, “political opinions are a substitute for personal checks, but people who value economic freedom, and thus bridle against forced income distribution, are far more charitable” to those in need.
The Hoover Institution’s Peter Schweizer says the liberal’s approach to community charity could be summed up in this bumper sticker: “Think Globally, Sit on Your Butt Locally.” This is a chapter title in his powerful, omnibus case for the neighborly superiority of conservatives in his book, “Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less … and Even Hug Their Children More than Liberals.”
Some liberals claim this greater charity among conservatives is simply because they seek the charitable deduction for tax avoidance, which ends up stiffing the poor. But conservative Republicans who take the standard deduction on April 15 still donate substantially greater sums of money compared to their liberal Democratic peers. Conservatives also donate much more of their time volunteering for charitable causes, which, of course, is a clear financial liability when they could be out working for pay.
So when someone from the left tells you, like they often will, that Christian, conservative Republicans are cranky people, a scourge on society, you can kindly and happily let them know that if they ever find themselves in a bind, it’s precisely these folks they’ll want to call.