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.