One of Mitt Romney’s friends. (They’re just “anti-fascist!”)
The gap manifests clearly across all age groups and is present as far back as the polling goes. In the General Social Survey, for instance, there has been a consistent 10 percentage point gap between the share of conservatives versus liberals who report being “very happy” in virtually every iteration since 1972 (when the GSS was launched).
Academic research consistently finds the same pattern. Conservatives do not just report higher levels of happiness, they also report higher levels of meaning in their lives. [I]n an analysis looking at ninety countries from 1981 through 2014, the social psychologists Olga Stavrova and Maike Luhmann found “the positive association between conservative ideology and happiness only rarely reversed. Liberals were happier than conservatives in only 5 out of 92 countries and never in the United States.”
It is empirically unclear why this pattern is so ubiquitous, not just in the contemporary United States but also historically (virtually as far back as the record goes) and in most other geographical contexts as well. There are a handful of prominent theories.
Conservatives are more likely to be patriotic and religious. They are more likely to be (happily) married and less likely to divorce. Religiosity, in turn, correlates with greater subjective and objective well-being (here, here, here). So does patriotism. So does marriage. Consequently, some have argued that the apparent psychological benefit of conservatism actually comes from feeling deeper connections with one’s country, one’s family, and the Divine. On this model, conservatism itself would be largely incidental to the happiness gap. A liberal who was similarly religious, or patriotic, or had a similarly happy marriage, would be expected to have similar levels of happiness as conservative peers.
In a similar vein, studies have repeatedly found that conservatives—both politicians and laymen—tend to be more conventionally attractive than liberals (and have better sex lives). Moreover, people who are healthier in childhood have been shown to be more likely to become conservative as adults.
Not to brag, but … from my Frontpage interview, Jan 12, 2004:
FP: Let's move on to discuss your own personal background. Tell us, what influenced you to become a Conservative? Were there some people or events that molded your views in your childhood, youth, etc?
AC: There was an absence of the sort of trauma that would deprive me of normal, instinctual reactions to things. I had happily married parents, a warm and loving family, and a happy childhood with lots of friends. Thus, there were no neurotic incidents to turn me into a liberal.
FP: No neurotic incidents to turn you into a liberal? Would you, then, argue that leftism/liberalism is ultimately, in most cases, the depersonalization and politicization of personal neuroses?
AC: Pause for a moment to consider the probable mental state of Howard Dean and then ask me that question again. Yes, of course liberalism is a mental defect. Liberals are wracked by self-loathing as the result of some traumatic incident -- say, driving drunk off a bridge with your mistress passed out in the back seat and letting the poor girl drown because you're a married man and a U.S. senator, just to take one utterly random, hypothetical example off the top of my head.