If You’re Happy and You Know It Stamp Barack

by Joel on February 26, 2008

Actually, it has been since around 1980 that I voted in a presidential election using a stamp and ink pad. And this post isn’t about Obama, but it’ll serve as a “two-fer” putting in a very brief plug for my candidate while going on to discuss the wider issue of the “happiness” of USA Democrats versus Republicans.

In Thirty Three Things, Vol. 49, #10, Evangelical Outpost’s Joe Carter cites, without any really serious analysis, a piece by Eric Weiner in the Washington Post reflecting on the Pew Research about Republicans being happier than Democrats, 40% to 29%. First, one of my objections to Weiner’s piece is his claim that the wealthy are only marginally happier than the poor. Not so, according to the Pew study. In that study, 49% of those with incomes above $100,000 describe themselves as very happy as compared to only 24% with incomes less than $30,000. That is not a marginal difference, but a huge one. The whole point Weiner and Carter seem to be attempting to make is that the defining difference between Democrats and Republicans, the unhappy and the happy, comes down to religion and that Republicans have it and Democrats don’t.

Weiner compares the happiness rate among church goers in relationship to their political affiliation, and demonstrates that those who regularly attend church are both happier and more likely to be Republican. What he glosses over is that this applies mostly to Whites, but not, it seems when it comes to Blacks. There is very little difference among Blacks with respect to church attendance and voting. Blacks with regular church attendance are just barely more likely to vote Republican than those who don’t attend church regularly or at all.

There is also very little difference in voting patterns among poorer Blacks and wealthier Blacks, as wealthier Blacks are only marginally more likely to vote Repubican. I think this factor alone limits the usefulness of data regarding happiness differences between Democrats and Republicans considering what a large portion of the Democratic party is made up of Blacks and other minorities, including Hispanics, who also tend to be less happy.

Moreove, the Demcratic Party is made up of a greater percetage of younger voters, who tend to be less happy than older voters as they adjust to rapid change in their lives. Voters age 18-29 supported John Kerry over George Bush 55%-44% in the 2004 presidential race, while those 30 and over supported Bush 52-47%. Historically, the younger years, post-high school and pre-marriage, tend to be times of lower church attendance. Many drift as they explore education and careers, alternative spiritual experiences and such.

Also consider that women (51% of those voting in 2004 favored Kerry) in more recent years have tended to be less happy than men (55% of men voting favored Bush). This probably has to do with the adjustment to changing gender roles in society, adjustments to how chores are handled among married couples or even among unmarried couples lviing together. More women are seeking careers and at higher levels while often trying to balance household and family interests.

Also, women, who tend to vote for Democrats more often than men, also are more likely to live longer than men, granting that the gender gap narrows and sometimes disappears among older voters. Many widows are less happy than married women; if more of the electorate is made up of widows than widowers, this could be a factor in happiness differences by political affiliation.

Also, much is made of “evangelical” church attenders being more happy than those who attend mainline Protestant churches. However, the difference disappears when the comparison is reduced to frequent attenders, according to several studies. Also, people who live in the Sunbelt “red” are more likely to be happy than those who live in many of the northern or “rust belt states.” The Sunbelt contains more Republicans than Democrats, but is that a real correlation with happiness or related more to the lingering effects of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and the fact that the wealthy, more likely to be Republicans, can greater afford to migrate south?

Unmarried women tend to be less happy and also more likely to be Democrats. But are they unhappy because they are Democrats or Democrats because they are unhappy? Most of us are acquainted with people who seem fairly content but are also pretty indifferent to the plight of their fellow human beings. Some studies indicate genetic makeup may partially influence political ideologies. Could it be that many of those who suffer emotional distress are more concerned about providing for others and find that church has not always been an effective route to societal transformation?

The Pew study points out that poor Republicans are happier than poor Democrats, that Black Republicans are happier than Black Democrats. By how much? Not a whole lot. Are the circumstances of their living situations similar? There’s a big difference between those living on less than $20,000 who own their own homes outright, have few bills, medical or otherwise. Is that accounted for? There may also be differences between the educated poor and the less educated poor. Does this factor in? Should it? There may also be large differences between the poor who live in safer, more rural communities than in larger urban ones. From my own experience, Oklahoma’s poorer whites are far more likley to vote Republican than Northern poor whites. Is religion the main issue? How about the greater emphasis in Southern states on states’ rights or Federalism?Maybe those who live in urban areas are more stressed by their living situations and place greater importance on political change and place greater trust in the Democratic Party. As well, while 52% or thereabouts of the White vote was made up of females, 57% of the Black vote was comprised of females. Black women, according to many studies, are less happy than Black men. Black women not only make up a larger percentage of the Black vote than Black men do, but they are also more likely than Black men to support Democrats. The averages I looked at showed 90% of Black women voting for Kerry, compared to 85% of Black men.

Beyond that, is the secular idea of “happiness” significantly related to the Biblical concept of “joy”? Should Christians be content with the notions of happiness that can be found in a poll? If you have a wonderful family, attend church, work in the mission field, but think the environment is imploding and feel ashamed that so much of the world lives on so little, how do you answer about the state of your pleasure?

And why do many of the Republican “red” states have higher suicide rates than the Democratic “blue” states if Republicans are happier than Democrats? According to this report Utah was the most mentally depressed of the U.S. States. Of the ten states considered affected with the most mental depression, President Bush carried nine of them: Wyoming, Ohio, Missouri, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nevada, Kentucky, West Virginia and Utah. Senator Kerry prevailed in one state, Rhode Island. The cumulative vote breakdown in the “depressed” states was 57% for Bush and 42% for Kerry. Of the ten states that fared the best on “depression status”, Bush carried five of them: South Dakota, Iowa, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas. Kerry won the other five: Hawaii, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois. The popular vote in those states was 52% for Bush and 47% for Kerry. However, more than 28% of the popular vote in those ten states came from Bush’s home state of Texas, which he won overwhelmingly.

How does the murder rate stack up in relationship to happiness? In 2006, there were 21 states plus the District of Columbia that had above average murder rates. Bush carried 16 of those states, Kerry five, plus the District of Columbia. Why do states with such “happy” people end up with so many murders? Could it be that many people are “happy” because they are indifferent to the plight of those around them?

And then there is reported child abuse. Consider this report: Of the 25 states with the worst records of child abuse fatalities, Bush won 20 of them, and Kerry was the top vote getter in five of them.

I have no ability to disprove the notion that Republicans are happier than Democrats, nor do I know that it really matters. My point is that the studies trying to prove or explain Republicans as happier than Democrats have limited value for failing to deeply examine all of the causes as opposed to correlations and/or for containing flawed, shallow, or missing definitions of the term “happiness”.

Were the Old Testament prophets “happy“? I don’t know how to answer that. They could certainly be displeased. I’m reminded of my Contracts professor, when asked after he had graded all the tests if he were pleased at how the class had done, said, with what to me looked like some discomfort on his face, that he was not “displeased” with the results. It was the first law school class he had ever taught, and, regardless of his answer, he didn’t look happy. Whether or not the whole of his life “counted it all joy” I wouldn’t know.

Joel Betow

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 02.26.08 at 1:22 pm

Great post Joel. You are quite right about the distinction that should be made between happiness and joy. And if Republicans are happy, let me be miserable!


Earl 02.26.08 at 2:24 pm

The results that you cite are not surprising. For the last eight years loss of two Presidential elections and failure to prevent appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court have resulted in pervasive bitterness and resentment among Democrats and liberals of all stripes has been pervasive. The resultant sharp divide has been exacerbated by conventional media that are dominated by a liberal social/political agenda. Even with a nominal majority in Congress, no major budgetary efforts have moved forward and no major legislation on issues such a illegal immigration, etc. have been advanced. Given this state of affairs, it is no surprise that Democrats should be less happy than Republicans.


DH 02.26.08 at 2:55 pm

What is all the antimosity toward Republican’s all about. I might disagree with Democrats, etc. but to make yourself miserable because a bunch of Republicans are happy seems really self-defeating. Ricahrd, I guess, short of having a Democrat as president, I hope you can appreciate that I pray for you to have all the happiness in the world and that goes for all you fellow Democrats, liberals, or whoever else I might happen to disagree with.

Richard, I appreciate the dialogue we have on this site. We might strongly disagree with each other but each day I can see through the disagreements to at least a mutual respect. I hope you and others can see that in me. God bless all who read Richard’s site today. :)


Beth 02.26.08 at 3:30 pm

This is really interesting, Joel - thanks.

Personally, I’m rather wary of happiness. It’s an extreme emotion. Ater all, its opposite - sadness - is not a normal emotion to feel all the time. Sadness is something that, if all is well, should come in bursts, caused by particular events or ideas, and should then recede. Happiness is just as far from normal as sadness is, and it too is something that we should expect only as an occasional emotion. I think a lot of the unhappiness in the world is caused by the suggestion that we should be happy. If we realised that, most of the time, our emotions should be relatively neutral, we might stop making ourselves sad chasing after happiness.

Of course, this is not to denigrate the fact that a large proportion of the world’s population has major reasons for geniune sadness. We should work tirelessly to deal with these, but remember that our aim is to allow people to be neutral again, not to “make them happy”.


DH 02.26.08 at 4:22 pm

Well Scripture does say “Happy is the man whose heart is the Lord’s.” Why should we be weary of something that should make us happy which is the Salvation of ones soul from destruction? If one accepts Christ as their Savior then at least that person should be happy about that even though one can be sad about everything that might be happening bad to them (that is for the worst case scenario). Scripture is full of passages telling us to rejoice and be glad. “Rejoice in the Lord all ways and again I say rejoice.” (remember this is a NT passage). If that doesn’t define “being happy” or at least being “happy” in the midst of a storm I don’t know what is. So I guess after readin these passages one can be sad in the physical but happy in the Spirit or how else can a Believer “rejoice in the Lord always”. Scripture also says happiness is a gift from God. So let us, if we are Believer, receive this happiness from God with gladness and rejoice for all of the many things He has done for us that we didn’t deserve. I’m sure encouraged after reading these “happy” passages. :)


Joel 02.26.08 at 6:11 pm


Dominated by a liberal media? The US media could barely contain its glee over the invasion of Iraq. From the New York Times to The Washington Post, the drumbeat was war, war, war. There are certain cultural issues where liberal coverage predominates, but gone are the days when the major broadcasters ran stories on groups such as the United Farm Workers. Now we have either fluff or entertainment news. As well, only libertarians to my mind would consider US business reporting to be liberal. Further, the self-ratings of happiness of Republicans over Democrats is not new and goes back 50 years or more, by some accounts.


My piece was intended for context. I didn’t write it as an anti-GOP post, but was reflecting on what I consider somewhat lazy passing around of “happiness.” I did mention my support for Obama, just as Joe Carter is up-front about where he stands, so that readers can take my political bias into account. As well, I find the modern Democratic party too focused on being the tosser of crumbs rather than an empowerer. For years I sent donations to the United Farm Workers. I didn’t do so to give them a little “hand out.” I did it so that the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. might ring true: “And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”


Your point about happiness is very well taken. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not a very good translation for “count it all joy.” I’ve known many people who struggled or are struggling with mental illness, drugs, gambling and other challenges whom God might very well consider more spiritually reconciled than the “happy.” On the other hand, sadness or gloom per se are not virtues.


Thanks for the compliment. Thanks to all for reading, whether you comment or not.


Kim 02.26.08 at 6:11 pm

Sorry DH, but you are reading bad translations dictated by the eudaemonism of the contemporary zeitgeist (another characteristic of which is impoverished vocabulary :) ). Not “happy” but “blessed” is the correct rendering of the Hebrew and Greek (as in the Beatitudes, not the Happitudes), blessedness being an objective state (conferred by God), not a subjective emotion (which comes and goes like the promise of a presidential candidate). “Joy” too is an altogether different state than “happiness”, for it can co-exist with great suffering.

What on earth does happiness have to do with discipleship = bearing a cross? The servant of Isaih 53 - now there is a guy with a shit-eating grin.

If you want to be happy, I recommend pig-ignorance and a hippo’s skin.

Oh, and Joel - great post - and great to hear from you. I think I speak for us all (which could be a first!) when I say that we miss you and that you are often in our prayers. Take care, mate.


Joel 02.26.08 at 6:27 pm


How kind of you! I’ve missed all the interaction and fellowship.

Interestingly, and as you are well aware, your own country’s Declaration of Independence provides for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the U.S. Supreme Court never seems to have placed that in the context of faith, nor would I expect such, and further, the courts sometimes ruled that it referred to pursuit of one’s vocation, business or economic interests rather than either an emotional feeling or pleasure. For a blog that addresses faith issues, it is both natural and incumbent upon us to put happiness in the context of spiritual belief, or moreover, God’s grace and will.

We should treasure pleasure when it proceeds of the Sovereign, but always find priority in discipleship, an area of substantial disobedience for most of us.


Joel 02.26.08 at 7:06 pm

I really should have captioned my post “If You’re Happy and You Know It Stamp Barack (stamp, stamp)” for Texans, who unlike the residents of most states, have two opportunities to vote, first in the primary, which allocates the majority of delegates, and then the evening caucuses, which end up at least indirectly electing most of the others, less the “Super Delegates.” When I participated in the caucus and follow-up process out of Houston in ‘88, I became acquainted with the “bullet balllot” which I would describe as a legalized form of electoral gambling. By such a ballot I ended up designated as a Gore-pledged delegate to the Texas State Democratic Convention, but by then, Dukakis had the nomination wrapped up.


DH 02.26.08 at 7:23 pm

Joel, you mentioned two reply’s ago some wonderful clarification. I think your “6:27pm” post was wonderful. I think discipleship includes helping people to “consider it all joy when you face trials and tribulations.” “Happy is the man whose heart is the Lord’s.” To me whether it is joy happiness, blessed, etc. if it is from God and is for the benefit of having a greater relationship with God that doesn’t violate His Word then one shouldn’t reject outright all of the many things that help us to endure this life for the eternal life to come to those who are Believers by ones Faith in Christ alone. For me what is wonderful about being a Christian is that I can learn to be happy, joyful, blessed all at once no matter what difficulties outside of my control I might face. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” We shouldn’t be cynical about this verse but learn through discipleship how to have this heart attitude as a Believer.


DH 02.26.08 at 7:24 pm

For me I’m happy and have been happy for a long time and for me “I’m happy and I know it so I’ll stamp McCain.”


Kim 02.26.08 at 7:46 pm

In the UK, McCains are a brand of chips - I mean “French fries” (or do some Americans still, inanely, call them “Freedom fries”?). Which you make by boiling slices of potato (which a former Republican candidate for the presidency couldn’t even spell) in oil. Some people do that to other people. And when they do, yet other people might call it torture, which yet other people might justify if it makes (alleged) terrorists cough up. McCain - the American Republican, not the French fry - (I think I am right in saying) does not believe in torture, or even in the delightful pastime of waterboarding, because of course McCain himself experienced torture. Good (not that he was tortured but that he rejects of torture). At least on that ground (if few others) the man is vote-worthy. To support anyone who supports torture is to support Antichrist. Good that Bush can’t run again. Bad that Nader is unelectable.


Earl 02.26.08 at 9:43 pm

The dominate interest of media, broadcast or print, is advertising or sponsor revenue. Advertising revenue is determined by market share. With reference to sponsor revenue, the exact same can be said of public broadcasting. “Fluff and entertainment” are the predominate focus of media because that is thought to be the best way to generate market share and the advertising or sponsor revenue that results.

Without exception major media in this nation operates from a decidedly liberal perspective. This is true not only of cultural but serious political and social issues. This reflects a overt and acknowledged bias that pervades the entire process from news gathering to broadcast or publication.

The invasion of Iraq was one of those instances when the media got it right. Unfortunately subsequent reporting failed to maintain any semblance of unbiased journalism. This has been exacerbated by the words and actions of Democrats who have sought to use the issue of the war as a tool of political opportunity. This is to be expected of politicians. But yellow journalism should long ago have been flushed out of the system.

I was not aware that US business reporting was being referenced. Nor was I overly concerned with the happiness quotient of either Republicans or Democrats. Given the choice, happiness would appear to be preferable to the alternative.
As well, only libertarians to my mind would consider US business reporting to be liberal. Further, the self-ratings of happiness of Republicans over Democrats is not new and goes back 50 years or more, by some accounts.


DH 02.26.08 at 10:35 pm

Kim, I don’t support torture. Also, Kim it wasn’t a presidential candidate who spelled potato potatoe it was a Vice Presidential candidate. Also, the flash card was incorrect and to me it is the teachers job to make sure they are when at the same time the Vice Presidential candidate went by what was given him.

If one reads this account of the event from wikipedia, one can see it really wasn’t his fault especially since the plural is potatoes and that originally in the 19th century both ways of spelling the vegetable were considered correct:

“The singular spelling variants “potato” vs. “potatoe” co-existed into the 19th century. In the 20th century “potato” came to be considered the correct singular, and “potatoe” considered a misspelling. The plural remains “potatoes’”.

Vice President of the United States Dan Quayle became notoriously associated with this misspelling in a June 15, 1992 incident. Quayle went to a photo op at Munoz Rivera School in Trenton, New Jersey, where he was to officiate a spelling bee by drawing flash cards and asking students to write the words on the blackboard. Twelve-year-old William Figueroa wrote potato, but Quayle prompted him to append an “e” which, according to Quayle’s 1995 Autobiography “Standing Firm”, was the spelling on the flash card.[1] The incident briefly made national news in the United States and became a source of entertainment for the tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom. For the June 25, 1992 rerun of The Simpsons episode “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”, Bart Simpson’s opening chalkboard gag was hastily changed to read, “It’s potato, not potatoe”. This was also the cause of a Saturday Night Live episode “Mr. Casual Sex”, in which Rob Schneider launches into a tirade against Quayle by saying that he is not qualified to discuss family values as he cannot properly spell potato.”

Why do you think it is bad that Nader is unellectible when he is basically a Communist?


Larry B 02.27.08 at 4:58 am

Well Joel,

I’m a republican and I’m not happy - so obviously the statistics are all wrong. Humph. And my favorite Disney character is Grumpy!

BTW, the statistics about depression in Utah - I heard recently on a Frontline documentary (yes a repbulican watches PBS sometimes too) that the rate of antidepressant usage among Mormons is abnormally high compared to other christian religions and general society. There are a lot of Mormons in Utah. Kind of debunks the idea that attending church makes you happy.


Kim 02.27.08 at 7:50 am


Sorry about the Quail mistake over the presidency/vice presidency and the spelling and idiot cards. I’ll ask my congregation to forgive me next time I read through the typo on my sermon and tell them Christ “isn’t” risen. It’s reassuring to know that we would have had such a quick-witted non-president if he’d been elected.

You too, DH, ought to try practicing more word-care. Waterboarding isn’t “torture”, terrorists are “Islamofascists”, and now Nader is a “Communist”. Is English your first language?


DH 02.27.08 at 3:00 pm

Kim, I misspoke on the Quayle thing. I apologize for correcting you on that one. I guess I agree I need a little word care with regard to Nader but on the other two I don’t agree. I know there are people more intelligent then myself and who speak with much better clarity than me who believe waterboarding isn’t torture and terrorists are Islamofascists. I wouldn’t think you would ask them “Is English your first language?”

I’ll make a deal with you. I will use even more word care if you not overgeneralize.


Joel 02.28.08 at 1:35 am


I made a modest monetary contribution to John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. I think that is a clue as to why so many Republicans find McCain unacceptable as the nominee at the moment, though most of them will support McCain by November.

I also think Quayle got a bum rap about the spelling of potato. I’m a so-so speller, though I try to improve. One of my grandmothers continued to write “to-day” and “to-morrow” long after official usage had dropped the hyphen. Howard Dean got a bum rap about the so-called “scream speech” in 2004 because the crowd he was addressing was extremely noisy. The “liberal” media elites feared his criticism of their news and entertainment monopoly and destroyed his candidacy.


I have my doubts that those outside the USA consider our media “liberal.” As well, the “L” word means so many things to so many people.

Also, I don’t know that it would be fair for me to label the invasion of Iraq the “conservative” view. I’d pretty much say that it was an “insanity” that has brought us to the gates of hell.


Earl 02.28.08 at 2:05 pm

Opinions are like noses. Everyone has one and sooner or later everyone blows it. Either in politics or even something as simple as what is the meaning of the word “liberal,” the opinion of old Europe is of about as much value as a used tissue.

I was not aware we were discussing the invasion of Iraq. For the record, Saddam was no different than Adolph Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic. Despite the not always “righteous” motives that drove the decision making process, despite the cost and consequences (Cold War, etc.) only the willfully obtuse would deny that stopping Hitler or Milosevic was right. The same is true of the war in Iraq.

Insanity is a illness. It was not illness that brought the Western world to the gates of hell. It was incompetence. In the manner of Chamberlain, weak accomidating political leadership has refused to confront the looming threat of militant Islam. Now the enemy is at the gate. It will take something akin to Poitiers for Western civilization is to withstand subjugation.

Given its twisted logic Islam has been on a collision course with Modernity ever since Mohammed rode a camel to Mecca. Driven by a fundamentalist ideology the spread of retrograde Isalm is the shadow of a new dark age that is as great a threat to freedom as was constituted by the iron curtain of communism.


DH 02.28.08 at 3:29 pm

Joel, I really enjoyed your analysis and your opinions with regard to the 2008 campaign. I even agree that Howard Dean got a bad rap as well as Quayle. Maybe it was all of the Saturday Night Live skits, but I found the Howard Dean thing so hilarious. To me it seemed more weird than Quayle who happen to read a flashcard given to him that happen to be wrong. I totally agree with you that both got a bad rap but the Howard Dean thing after viewing it over and over again is about as funny as the Vice Presidential candiate Admiral who happen to say “Why am I here?

Earl, I really liked your second and third paragraphs. However, your last one seem just a little over the top. I still believe that there are a majority of Muslims who are good people who don’t condone the terrorism and Islamofascism of Iran, Syria, Hammas, Hezbollah and the like. However, I cannot deny your wonderful second and third paragraphs which were worded better than even I could have said.

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