March 1, 2024

Economix Blog: The Toll of Politics on Well-Being

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With Americans’ confidence in government at historic lows, it may not be surprising to learn that people are so fed up with politicians and politics that even talking about them makes people feel worse about their lives.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new study, “The Financial Crisis and the Well-Being of Americans,” by Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton University. In the working paper, issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Mr. Deaton examines data from the Gallup Organization, which polls people on how they feel about various aspects of well-being, including their level of happiness, stress and anger and whether they are satisfied with their standard of living.

One of the intriguing findings is that the order in which Gallup posed questions affected the way people reported these various measures of well-being.

When the pollsters asked questions about respondents’ plans to vote, their preferred candidates, their approval ratings of the president’s performance and whether the country was headed in the right direction, the respondents reported increased levels of stress and anger.

“People appear to dislike politics and politicians so much that prompting them to think about them has a very large downward effect on their assessment of their own lives,” Mr. Deaton reported. In fact, he wrote, “the effect of asking the political questions on well-being is only a little less than the effect of someone becoming unemployed.”

On the other hand, there were some unexplained spikes in people’s assessment of their well-being. One of the largest increases came on April 6, 2009, a day that did not stand out for its obvious contribution to happiness or standard of living. Perhaps you can find a rationale in the main events of the day: there was an earthquake in L’Aquila in Italy, Robert Gates announced the military budget and Carrie Underwood won a Country Music Award.

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