WASHINGTON — Conservatives say they are happier, but liberals show more cheer in smiles, word choice and even emoticon use, claims a new scientific study.
Other researchers found fault with the study, which looked at how Democrats and Republicans differ in positive language in speeches entered into the Congressional Record, photos in the congressional directory, tweets by followers of the two different political parties, LinkedIn photos associated with advocacy groups, and answers to psychological satisfaction-with-life surveys.
The scientists found Democrats in Congress and liberals in general used a statistically significant amount of more positive language and smiled more with their eyes in photographs, while conservatives self-reported more satisfaction with life, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
“We’re not saying liberals are happier, they behave happier,” said study co-author Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at the University of California Irvine. “But conservatives report being happier.”
Other studies have reported that conservatives tend to score higher on tests that rate how satisfied with life they are, but University of California Irvine graduate student Sean Wojcik, the study’s lead author, decided to look deeper. He looked at other indicators of happiness: words and facial expressions.
The researchers examined 18 years and 432 million words of speeches in the Congressional Record, concentrating on 2013. Democrats used 13.6 positive words for every negative and Republicans used 11.5 positive words per negative. That higher rate for liberals was apparent regardless of who controlled Congress or the White House, Ditto said.
For a laughing Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., this rings true: “A lot of what seems to fuel Republican energy is anger-based. They’re angry about Iran. They’re angry about Obama. … And you hear that on the floor constantly.”
That’s not the feeling at the office of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., where a sign above the congressman’s door reads “Fighting for Freedom and Having Fun.” His spokesman Ken Grubbs said, “A day at the office here … is never without lots of laughs.”
Political scientist Jack Pitney said the Wojcik study was so off kilter that it seemed to be a parody, adding “I don’t think too many people will take this seriously.” A professor at Claremont McKenna College, he had many questions about the way the study was conducted and said conservatives in general want less government so this would be reflected in the language they use when talking about government.
One study team member, who initially wasn’t told what the project was about, examined congressional portraits to rate their facial emotions, an accepted technique in psychology. Democrats and Republicans had similar smiles around the mouth, but the more telling features for happiness are the muscles around the eyes and there Democrats looked cheerier, Wojcik said. He also found more positive language — and emoticon use — in tweets from people who followed only Democratic Twitter accounts versus only Republican account followers.
Several outside psychology experts told The Associated Press that while it was interesting, they didn’t find the study convincing. They faulted some techniques, did not see a significant difference between the two ideologies’ scores and they criticized the researchers for mixing long-term happiness in self-reporting with momentary good moods in pictures and language.
“The observed differences are quite small,” said Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis. “Happiness is the norm for both” Democrats and Republicans.
SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer