Winning barely makes people from the winning political party happier, a new study finds. In addition, being on the losing side reduces self-reported happiness and increases sadness substantially.
The researchers used thousands of daily online survey responses from CivicScience, a market research and data intelligence company, to compare the happiness and sadness reported by those who identify with political parties in the days surrounding the 2012 presidential election.
The sadness effect lasted for about a week, but eventually partisan losers recovered.
“One of our main findings is that the pain of losing the 2012 presidential election dominated the joy of winning it,” says Lamar Pierce, associate professor of organization and strategy at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.
The asymmetry the researchers observed between winning and losing is in line with past research on happiness—bad things tend to hurt more and last longer than comparable good things.
To benchmark exactly how intense the pain of election losses can be, the researchers employed the same methodology used on the election data to study the effects of two national tragedies—the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing—on Americans’ emotions.
Despite the highly traumatic nature of the two events, the results indicate that the sadness increase and happiness decrease that followed reflected only half the effect of an election loss on partisans, with two notable exceptions—respondents who had children, who were distinctly less happy and more sad after the Newtown shooting; and Boston residents, who responded similarly after the marathon bombing.
Prior research has shown that partisan identity shapes social, mental, economic, and physical life. This new research shows that it can have intense effects on identity and well-being.
“We find that partisan identity is even more central to the self than past research might have suggested,” the researchers write.
“In addition to affecting thinking, preferences, and behavior, it also has sizable hedonic consequences, especially when people experience partisan losses.”
The study is part of a Harvard Kennedy School research working paper series.
Coauthors are Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School and Jason Snyder of the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management.