As you may have heard, I am getting a degree in well-being, the psychology of optimal human flourishing, and all that jazz. So I found myself perusing Gallups new data on well-being which compares the 50 states. Each receives a score averaging six categories: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access—a reasonably holistic assessment methinks.
As I perused the state rankings, I found myself thinking about red and blue states, and correlating political affiliation with these well-being numbers. So I downloaded the data, color coded the states according to how they voted in the 2012 presidential election (blue democrat/red republican), and then took a look at the swing states according to Politico. Some items are worth sharing.
First, of the 10 happiest states, seven are democratic states and three are Republican. However, if we take out the swing states, it is five and five. Which tells us little it seems.
The states in the middle seem fairly mixed, there are just more Democratic ones (these days).
Rhode Island is striking for being a solidly blue state so low on the list. Its geographical neighbors are much higher, and the other blue states near it on the list (Nevada, Michigan, and Florida) are in truth pretty nominally blue.
It is also worth noting that Hawaii is not just on top, but 1.4 points away from #2. Likewise, West Virginia is not just at the bottom of the pile, it is, somewhat strangely, also a full 1.4 points away from #49. This is huge: all 48 other states are packed into a band from 62.7 to 69.7; only a 7-point range. West Virginia and Hawaii are major outliers.
Finally, by far the biggest takeaway here is the mass of red at the bottom. Of the 10 saddest states in the union, 9 are Republican. In fact, these states might be appropriately described as “uber” Republican. The only democratic state is Ohio, which is very much a swing state. If we take out all the swing states, all 10 slots at the bottom of the well-being pile go Republican. However, 8 of these 10 are also southern states, which means this might be a regional thing over and above a Republican thing.
So what do we make of this? Is there a correlation between one’s political views and subjective well-being?
I am not sure, but I spent some time this afternoon thinking about it. Here is the same Gallup well-being data from a geographic perspective:
I also looked at a number of other factors. Underemployment did not seem to correlate at all, neither did hiring rates, or firing rates. Economic outlook did seem to correlate a bit, except for the incredibly obvious exception of Wyoming.
So, after this afternoon’s intellectual adventure, I do not have an answer for you: I do not know why the 10 saddest states in the Union are all Republican. I set up a question, I explored it, I brought you to the stream to drink, and the stream is dry. What a cruel thing to do!
I wanted to still post this not only to point out an interesting data point I observed (the 10 saddest states are Republican), but also to say that I do not have all the answers and continually look for them. I think that is why many of you read my blog; my mind is not made up and I do my best to treat the data honestly. I am constantly playing with live fire because I really do believe I can change my mind at any point as I go about learning more about the world. Which means you can change my mind too. A malleable worldview makes intellectual adventures more fun.
In other news, I just finished a Yale lecture series on the Ancient Greeks and am now working through another Yale series on the American Civil War. I want to post on my masters thesis topic, a speech I want Obama to give, and also my buddy Whit has one more post on gun control. Looking forward to reporting on these ongoing intellectual adventures! Thanks for reading everyone. You rock!