It’s Their Happiness, Stupid!

Source: The Economist

Gulf Shores  James Carville’s quote in the Clinton campaign “war room,” that “it’s the economy, stupid!” will be in his obit.  I’ve read one report that argued that Trump would be re-elected, regardless of his polling numbers and approval ratings, if growth was above 3% in 2020 before the election.  The notion that economics drives politics has an almost ideological weight no matter what the form of government and whether in the USA and India or China and Russia.  One could argue that in this area, inarguably, Marx was right.

What explains the support for radical, far right politicians and parties all around the world even when economies have improved?  Some now argue it’s as much, if not more, about happiness and personal perspectives on well-being, as it is about economic security and expectations.

The Economist really took on this question.  They started by referencing a study by George Ward of MIT, where he,

“…confirmed the political significance of happiness. He looked at what best explains the variation in the incumbents share of the vote in 15 European elections between 1973 and 2014.  Life satisfaction, he found, was twice as important in explaining how incumbents did as the unemployment rate and about 30% more important than GDP growth.  Ward also found that…almost half of those who were very satisfied with their lives said they would vote for the incumbent while less than a third of those who were not at all satisfied would.  Research from America suggests that happiness has as big an effect on voting patterns … as education.”

Now that’s interesting.  It aligns to some degree with the increased importance pollsters and pundits have placed on right track versus wrong track surveys of popular opinions about the direction of the country that are also decoupled from pure economics.

The Economist, being a conservative-leaning, business-supporting journal, is worried about this, especially in the face of one rightwing party after another in Europe and politicians like Trump and Ford in North America being elected despite improving economies.  Additionally, they, and others like-minded, are confused that older people rather than becoming more settled and satisfied after reaching the age of 60, are raving mad and throwing their votes into this same radical fire.

They raise the distinction between “evaluative” versus “hedonic” happiness being important.  Evaluative looks at how you view your life today.  Hedonic responds to how you felt yesterday.  Measures including the World Happiness Report see an upswing towards hedonic happiness confronting politicians that have always assumed evaluative happiness was the ticket to ride.  Some US polling indicates that the results of basketball and football scores for favored teams can alter voting patterns in this way.  In Switzerland, rain can throw governments under the bus.

Maybe this isn’t new, because the real deal may be how unhappy people feel when they feel things are getting better, but that they are being left behind, which is certainly part of what Trump is banking on.  The Economist notes that would not be new.  Seymour Martin Lipset noted the contradictory surge for the Ku Klux Klan during the boom times of the 1920s in the US.  More contemporary work from economists in the Netherlands found growing support for the radical right in Europe from those feeling slighted.

Maybe it’s not enough for politicians to just line the pockets of the rich, and then for them to tweet and Instagram their good times.  If looking differently at happiness makes politicians look at all of the folks left behind, not just the rightwing shouters, it would be a great thing for all of us on the bottom.

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Calculating the Prospects for Change

First Native American women elected to Congress: Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland
Source: CNN

Houston    It’s still difficult to fully assess the election and its lessons, but some patterns continue to emerge in bits and pieces.

A text from Houston after the midterms underlined the hopes for Texas to move elsewhere along the color spectrum.  Democrats picked up eleven state representative seats for example on the Beto O’Rourke coattails.  This result won’t show up in a calculation of total control of the legislature which is still all Republican all the time, but it might make a difference in the election for Speaker which could stop a lot of terrible legislation and keep it bottled up in committees.

That may be too much in the weeds at this point, but there’s going to be a lot of that kind of data to absorb still.  Looking at highlights though:

  • The first two Native Americans were finally elected to Congress, one from Kansas and one from New Mexico.
  • The first two Muslim women were elected to Congress.
  • Michigan voted to legalize the sale and use of marijuana, while North Dakota did not. Medical marijuana was approved by voters in Utah and Missouri.
  • The San Francisco initiative that put a tax on large employers to pay for homeless housing and support prevailed, while the statewide initiative that would have allowed more cities to enact rent control failed by a 2 to 1 margin after huge opposition by developers and some smaller city mayors.
  • Washington State did not approve the first tax on carbon dioxide pollution although voters in Nevada approved a measure that would require electric utilities to get 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.Arizona on the other hand overwhelmingly rejected a similar measure in that state after fierce opposition by the local utility.

On the healthcare front and protection of the Affordable Care Act, the news was virtually all good on all accounts.  Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah – all red to the core – approved ballot initiatives to expand coverage under the ACA, which is a message Republicans can’t fail to hear.  Furthermore, as we have seen in Louisiana for example, the election of Democratic governors in Kansas and Wisconsin may finally move them into the coverage column.  In Maine, where the fight has been protracted and the now former governor has stood in the emergency room door to prevent expansion, the election of a Democratic governor there just about guarantees expansion now.  Of course, Democratic control of the House of Representatives also means that any repeal is now virtually impossible over the next two years, and, as we all know, the longer we have healthcare protection, the harder it will ever be to end it and not to expand it.

Sure, the election didn’t change some things.  President Trump is going on “war footing,” whatever that means.  Many of us thought that’s what he was already on.  For a second he was afraid less than 100% of the attention was on him, so within minutes of a post-election press conference, the White House announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, no win for the people, was being temporarily replaced by a Trump hand puppet, guaranteeing that Russia will once again be in the headlines to drown out the increasingly loud voice of the people.

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