Are politically conservative people happier than people who are politically liberal? A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that libertarian tendencies may be related to well-being, but moral traditionalism and ethnic separateness are linked to negativity bias.
Previous research has revealed that conservative people are more likely to experience stronger negativity bias but are also more likely to report higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than their liberal counterparts. Research that separated conservatism into distinct parts associated with different outcomes has been lacking. This study seeks to understand the mechanisms that make up conservatism and see how they are related to these seemingly contrasting previous findings.
“We aimed to assess how distinct dimensions of attitudes contribute to conservative ideology and whether such factors possess unique relations not only to politically relevant variables, but also to important outcome variables that lie outside the realm of politics per se: subjective well-being and negativity bias,” explained study authors Xiaowen Xu and colleagues.
The researchers utilized a sample of 1,370 North American participants recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for Study One. Participants in this study completed measures on political attitude, demographics, religiosity, and fiscal and social conservatism. For Study Two, 386 participants living in the United States were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Participants in this study completed measures on demographic information, education, religiosity, well-being, and fiscal and social conservatism. Participants were split into blocks and completed one of 6 questionnaires: social dominance, authoritarianism-conservatism-traditionalism, social and economic conservatism, modern racism, and disgust sensitivity.
Results revealed that libertarian independence, which is a concept that supports reducing government funding of welfare programs, is associated with greater life satisfaction. This is thought to be because people high in libertarian independence are not bothered by wealth disparities and have high levels of self-reported autonomy, which are associated with wellbeing.
Participants high in libertarian independence were more likely to be sensitive to threats to their social status, while participants high on moral traditionalism were unconcerned with status but were concerned with contamination threats and showed higher levels of disgust sensitivity. Ethnic separateness, which involves disapproval of immigrants and interracial relationships, was weakly associated with lower life satisfaction.
Though this study took significant steps into better understanding the nuances of conservatism, it has some limitations to note. Firstly, there is significant overlap between fiscal and social conservatism, and it is difficult to categorize items squarely as one or the other. Additionally, this study focused solely on American participants, and these distinct aspects of American conservatism may not generalize to conservatism overall.
The study, “Three Dimensions of American Conservative Political Orientation Differentially Predict Negative Bias and Satisfaction With Life“, was authored by Xiaowen Xu, Caitlin M. Burton, and Jason E. Plaks.