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Personality and Individual Differences 72 (2015) 711

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Personality and Individual Differences


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Happiness, political orientation, and religiosity


Michael T. Bixter
Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-25001, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 15 January 2014
Received in revised form 31 July 2014
Accepted 8 August 2014
Available online 14 September 2014
Keywords:
Happiness
Conservatism
Religiosity
Well-being

a b s t r a c t
Previous research has focused on how happiness is independently associated with political orientation
and religiosity. The current study instead explored how political orientation and religiosity interact in
establishing levels of happiness. Data from both the 2012 General Social Survey and the 2005 World
Values Survey were used. Results from both data sets support prior research by showing a positive association between happiness and both political conservatism and religiosity. Importantly, it was found that
political conservatism and religiosity interact in predicting happiness levels. Specically, the current
results suggest that religiosity has a greater effect on happiness for more politically conservative individuals compared to more politically liberal individuals.
2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Research on happiness has gained importance over the past few
decades in both psychology and economics (Diener, 2000; Di Tella
& MacCulloch, 2006; Frey & Stutzer, 2002). This renewed interest
in the science of happiness has not been conned to the laboratory.
For instance, a number of nations have begun to develop national
measures of subjective well-being to complement traditional measures of national well-being, such as GDP (Self, Thomas, & Randall,
2012). An underlying assumption of this line of research is that
subjective measures of well-being provide useful insight into an
individuals quality of life. As a result, a central focus in happiness
research has been to explore how individual differences in various
psychological variables relate to levels of happiness. Two variables
of particular interest have been religiosity and political orientation.
Numerous studies have found a positive relationship between
measures of religiosity and subjective well-being (e.g., AbdelKhalek, 2011; Francis & Lester, 1997; French & Joseph, 1999;
Soydemir, Bastida, & Gonzalez, 2004). This relationship holds when
religiosity is dened by religious belief or attitude (Dezutter,
Soenens, & Hutsebaut, 2006), by behavioral aspects such as attendance or participation in religious services (Poloma & Pendleton,
1990), as well as personal acts such as prayer (Maltby, Lewis, &
Day, 1999). Explanations for the positive association between religiosity and happiness include the idea that religion provides,
among other things, a source of social support, purpose in life,
enhancement of healthier lifestyle choices, and a coping mechanism (see Hicks & King, 2008; Horning, Davis, Stirrat, & Cornwell,
E-mail address: michael.bixter@stonybrook.edu
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.08.010
0191-8869/ 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2011; Pullen, Modrcin-Talbott, West, & Muenchen, 1999; Steger


& Frazier, 2005).
As it relates to political orientation, prior research has demonstrated that political conservatism is associated with increased
subjective well-being (Brooks, 2008). For example, Napier and
Jost (2008) found that political conservatism is positively associated with life-satisfaction and happiness. Van Hiel and Brebels
(2011) went on to discover that conservatism can act as a protection of self-esteem in a sample of older people. Schlenker,
Chambers, and Le (2012) also found political conservatism to be
associated with increased self-esteem. In fact, Schlenker et al.
(2012) found conservatism to be associated with increased satisfaction across a number of domains, including marriage, family life,
job, and health/physical condition. Conversely, conservatism was
negatively associated with depression and other measures of
mental health problems.
Various explanations have been put forth for the association
between political conservatism and subjective well-being, including system-justication theory (Napier & Jost, 2008), certain personality and attitudinal variables associated with positive
adjustment (Schlenker et al., 2012), as well as terror management
theory and social identity theory (Van Hiel & Brebels, 2011; Van
Hiel & De Clerq, 2009). However, because political conservatism
and religiosity have often been found to be associated with each
other (Duriez, 2003; Miller & Wattenberg, 1984), it could be that
the association between happiness and political conservatism is
due to religiosity. Yet, it has been found that political conservatism
and religiosity account for unique proportions of variance in happiness levels (Napier & Jost, 2008). As a result, it is possible that political orientation and religiosity interact in predicting happiness. For

M.T. Bixter / Personality and Individual Differences 72 (2015) 711

example, it may be the case that the association between religiosity and happiness is not uniform across political orientations.
The current study sought to explore how, if at all, political orientation and religiosity interact in establishing levels of happiness.
Data from the most recent versions of the General Social Survey
(GSS, 2012) and the World Values Survey (WVS, 2005) were used.
Because the bivariate relationships between subjective well-being
and both political orientation and religiosity have been demonstrated in numerous countries and cultures (e.g., Napier & Jost,
2008; WHOQOL SRPB Group, 2006), it was important to use data
from countries around the world. Moreover, both the GSS and
WVS datasets include measures of happiness, political orientation,
and religiosity, and, as a result, provide excellent means of investigating any interactive effect of political orientation and religiosity
on happiness in large representative samples.
2. Methods
2.1. General Social Survey
The GSS is currently administered every two years by the
National Opinion Research Center to residents of the United States.
The survey includes a large battery of attitudinal, psychological,
and opinion variables. Importantly for the current study, happiness, political orientation, and religiosity variables are all included
in the survey. Data from the most recent 2012 GSS were used for
the current study.
2.1.1. Measures
All variables were coded so that higher values were associated
with more of the construct (e.g., greater happiness, greater
religiosity).
2.1.1.1. Happiness. The 2012 GSS included a subjective measure of
happiness (happy7). The exact wording of the question was If
you were to consider your life, in general, how happy or unhappy
would you say you are, on the whole? Respondents were then to
rank their level of happiness on a seven point scale (1 = Completely Unhappy, 2 = Very Unhappy, 3 = Fairly Unhappy,
4 = Neither Happy nor Unhappy, 5 = Fairly Happy, 6 = Very
Happy, 7 = Completely Happy). Previous versions of the GSS
(other than 2002) have solely included a three point happiness
item, so the inclusion of this seven point item in the 2012 version
allows for more granularity in assessing levels of happiness. Singleitem happiness scales have also been found to have high temporal
stability and concurrent, convergent, and divergent validity
(Abdel-Khalek, 2006; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999).
2.1.1.2. Political orientation. Respondents to the 2012 GSS ranked
their political orientation (polviews) on a seven point scale
(1 = Extremely Liberal, 2 = Liberal, 3 = Slightly Liberal,
4 = Moderate, 5 = Slightly Conservative, 6 = Conservative,
7 = Extremely Conservative). Scores were mean-centered for all
analyses. There has been a recent debate over whether political orientation should be thought of as a unidimensional or multidimensional construct (e.g., Choma, Hafer, Dywan, Segalowitz, & Busseri,
2012). However, self-placement on single-item liberal-conservative scales has been found to strongly predict relevant real-world
behavior, such as voting preferences (see Jost, Federico, & Napier,
2009).
2.1.1.3. Religiosity. The 2012 GSS included a number of religiosity
measures. Seven were identied and deemed relevant for the current study. These seven measures included a nine point scale ranking of religious attendance (attend, 0 = Never, 8 = More than

once a week), a six point scale on the frequency of prayer (pray,


1 = Never, 6 = Several times a day), an eleven point scale on
the frequency of religious activity (relactiv, 1 = Never, 11 = Several times a day), a four point scale on the strength of religious
afliation (relitin, 1 = No Religion, 4 = Strong), a six point scale
on belief in god (god, 1 = Do not Believe, 6 = Know God Exists),
a four point scale on the degree respondents identied as a spiritual person (sprtprsn, 1 = Not Spiritual, 4 = Very Spiritual),
and a four point scale on the degree respondents identied as a
religious person (relpersn, 1 = Not Religious, 4 = Very
Religious). Scores on these seven religiosity measures were standardized and then averaged together to create a religiosity index.
The reliability of this index was high (Cronbachs a = .88).
2.1.1.4. Demographic variables. The following three demographic
variables were included as control variables: a continuous measure
of age (age), a dichotomous measure of sex (sex, 0 = female,
1 = male), and the number of educational years completed (educ).
2.2. World Values Survey
The WVS is administered to residents of nations around the
world. Similar to the GSS, happiness, political orientation, and religiosity variables are all included in the survey. Data from the most
recent 2005 WVS were used for the current study.
2.2.1. Measures
All variables were coded so that higher values were associated
with more of the construct.
2.2.1.1. Happiness. The 2005 WVS included a subjective measure of
happiness (V10). The exact wording of the item was Taking all
things together, would you say you are. . . Respondents were then
to rank their level of happiness on a four point scale (1 = Not at all
happy, 2 = Not very happy, 3 = Quite happy, 4 = Very
happy).
2.2.1.2. Political orientation. Respondents to the 2005 WVS ranked
their political orientation (V114) on a ten point scale (1 = Left,
10 = Right). Scores were mean-centered for all analyses.
2.2.1.3. Religiosity. The 2005 WVS included a number of religiosity
measures. Five were identied and deemed relevant for the current
study. These ve measures included a four point scale ranking of
importance attached to religion (V9, 1 = Not at all important,
4 = Very important), a three point scale ranking of membership
in religious organization (V24, 0 = Not a member, 2 = Active
member), a seven point scale on how often religious services
are attended (V186, 1 = Never, 7 = More than once a week), a
three point scale on the degree respondents identied as a religious person (V187, 1 = A convinced atheist, 3 = A religious person), and a ten point scale on the importance of god (V192,
1 = Not at all, 10 = Very). Scores on these ve religiosity measures were standardized and then averaged together to create a
religiosity index. The reliability of this index was high (Cronbachs
a = .82).
2.2.1.4. Demographic variables. The following three demographic
variables were included as control variables: a continuous measure
of age (V237), a dichotomous measure of sex (V235, 0 = female,
1 = male), and the highest educational level attained (V238,
1 = No formal education, 9 = University level education).
2.2.2. Sample
Political orientation data were not available for the following
four nations: China, Russia, Iran, and Malaysia. As a result, data

M.T. Bixter / Personality and Individual Differences 72 (2015) 711

3. Results
3.1. General Social Survey
In order to see how political orientation and religiosity interact
in establishing happiness levels, we carried out a multiple regression analysis.1 The criterion variable was happiness, and the predictors of interest were political orientation, religiosity, and an
interaction term (political orientation * religiosity). Measures of
age, sex, and educational attainment were also included as demographic control variables. Only individuals with scores for all of the
variables were able to be included in the regression analysis. This
resulted in 1220 individuals.
Results of the regression analysis can be seen in Table 1. The
overall model reached statistical signicance, F(6, 1213) = 9.72,
p < .001, R = .20, R2 = .04. Moreover, all three predictors of interest
reached statistical signicance. The positive signs for the political
orientation and religiosity variables support prior research that
has demonstrated subjective well-being to be associated with both
political conservatism and religiosity. However, the signicant
interaction term suggests that political orientation and religiosity
interact in determining happiness levels.
In order to investigate this interactive result further, simple
regression equations were extracted from the overall model
for liberal (one standard deviation below the mean for the political orientation variable), moderate (the mean), and conservative
(one standard deviation above the mean) political orientations.
This then allowed us to explore the inuence of religiosity at
various levels of political orientation. The slope associated with
religiosity was found to be highest (lowest) for more politically
conservative (liberal) individuals, with the slope for more politically conservative individuals turning out to be 3.5 times the
slope for more politically liberal individuals. In order to better
visualize this interaction, these three simple regression equations were used to plot happiness levels at low religiosity
(one standard deviation below the mean for the religiosity variable), medium religiosity (the mean), and high religiosity (one
standard deviation above the mean). As Fig. 1 shows, whereas
there was not much difference in happiness levels between
political orientations at low religiosity levels, more politically
conservative individuals exhibited greater levels of happiness
compared to both moderates and liberals as religiosity
increased.
Bivariate correlations between religiosity and happiness at
various levels of political orientation led to similar results. For
example, collapsing across degrees of liberalism (i.e., values of
13 on the political orientation measure) and conservatism (i.e.,
values of 57) led to the following correlations between happiness and religiosity: liberals (r = .05, p > .35, N = 348), moderates
(r = .11, p < .05, N = 483) and conservatives (r = .24, p < .001,
N = 391).
1
We also ran an ordinal regression analysis with the same predictors. The pattern
of results was the same as the OLS regression.

Table 1
Results from the General Social Survey. Happiness scores predicted by demographic
variables (age, sex, education), political orientation, religiosity, and the interaction
between political orientation and religiosity.
Variable

SE

Intercept
Age
Sex
Education
Political orientation
Religiosity
Interaction

5.33
.00
.00
.02
.05
.19
.07

.153
.002
.057
.010
.023
.043
.028

34.85***
1.27
.06
1.85
2.31*
4.38***
2.59**

.04
.00
.06
.08
.15
.09

Notes: Standard errors are heteroskedasticity-consistent standard errors.


Sex: 0-female, 1-male.
N = 1220.
*
p < .05.
**
p < .01.
***
p < .001.

Liberal
Moderate

5.8

Happiness

from these four nations were not able to be included in any analyses. This left data from the following 53 nations: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile,
Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy,
Japan, Jordan, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, New
Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Serbia, Slovenia,
South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan,
Thailand, Trinidad Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Vietnam, and Zambia.

Conservative

5.6

5.4

5.2

5
Low

Medium

High

Religiosity
Fig. 1. Results from the General Social Survey. Simple regression lines plotting the
inuence of religiosity on happiness at various levels of political orientation.

3.2. World Values Survey


In order to see if there is a more general relationship between
happiness, political orientation, religiosity, and the interaction
between political orientation and religiosity, we next turn to
results from the WVS.
A multiple regression analysis was carried out to see how political orientation and religiosity interact in establishing happiness
levels.2 The criterion variable was happiness, and the predictors of
interest were political orientation, religiosity, and an interaction
term (political orientation * religiosity). Measures of age, sex, and
educational attainment were also included as demographic control
variables. Only individuals with scores for all of the variables were
able to be included in the regression analysis. This resulted in
57,658 individuals.
Results of the regression analysis can be seen in Table 2. The
overall
model
reached
statistical
signicance,
F(6,
57651) = 171.37, p < .001, R = .14, R2 = .02. The positive signs for
the political orientation and religiosity variables once again support
prior research that has demonstrated subjective well-being to be
associated with both right-wing political orientation and religiosity.
However, similar to the GSS results above, the signicant interaction term suggests that political orientation and religiosity interact
in determining happiness levels.

2
Because the happiness dependent variable in the WVS dataset was more
restricted with only four values, we also ran a logistic regression analysis with Very
happy coded as 1 and every other value coded as 0. The same predictors were used in
the analysis. The pattern of results was the same as the OLS regression.

10

M.T. Bixter / Personality and Individual Differences 72 (2015) 711

Table 2
Results from the World Values Survey. Happiness scores predicted by demographic
variables (age, sex, education), political orientation, religiosity, and the interaction
between political orientation and religiosity.
Variable

SE

Intercept
Age
Sex
Education
Political Orientation
Religiosity
Interaction

2.978
.001
.030
.032
.018
.039
.011

.012
.000
.006
.001
.001
.004
.002

248.18
3.90
4.93
25.30
13.52
10.17
7.23

.02
.02
.11
.06
.04
.03

Notes: Standard errors are heteroskedasticity-consistent standard errors.


Sex: 0-female, 1-male.
N = 57,658.
ps < .001.

3.5

Left-Wing
Moderate

Happiness

Right-Wing
3.3

3.1

2.9
Low

Medium

High

Religiosity
Fig. 2. Results from the World Values Survey. Simple regression lines plotting the
inuence of religiosity on happiness at various levels of political orientation.

In order to investigate the interactive result further, simple


regression equations were extracted from the overall model for
left-wing (one standard deviation below the mean for the political
orientation variable), moderate (the mean), and right-wing (one
standard deviation above the mean) political orientations. The
slope associated with religiosity was found to be highest (lowest)
for more politically right-wing (left-wing) individuals, with the
slope for more politically right-wing individuals turning out to
be 5.3 times the slope for more politically left-wing individuals.
In order to better visualize this interaction, these three simple
regression equations were used to plot happiness levels at low religiosity (one standard deviation below the mean for the religiosity
variable), medium religiosity (the mean), and high religiosity (one
standard deviation above the mean). As Fig. 2 shows, whereas
there is not much difference in happiness levels between political
orientations at low religiosity levels, more politically right-wing
individuals exhibit greater levels of happiness compared to both
moderates and left-wing individuals as religiosity increases.3

3
The political orientation measure for the WVS sample is not as easily reducible
(compared to the measure for the GSS sample) to carry out bivariate correlations
between religiosity and happiness across various levels of political orientation.
Though a value of 1 is labeled as left-wing and a value of 10 is labeled as right-wing,
intermediate values are not labeled as varying degrees of left- or right-wing. As a
result, bivariate correlations between religiosity and happiness across all 10 levels of
political orientation were carried out, with the results as follows: 1 (r = .02, p = .25,
N = 3829), 2 (r = .03, p = .10, N = 2302), 3 (r = .06, p < .001, N = 4336), 4 (r = .01,
p = .36, N = 4575), 5 (r = .04, p < .001, N = 14634), 6 (r = .04, p < .01, N = 8559), 7
(r = .02, p = .06, N = 5994), 8 (r = .06, p < .001, N = 5762), 9 (r = .09, p < .001, N = 2719),
10 (r = .09, p < .001, N = 5455). The bivariate correlations were highest and positive for
more politically right-wing individuals. These correlations, though relatively small in
magnitude, support the general pattern of results found by the regression analysis.

4. Discussion
The present study demonstrated that both right-wing political
orientation and religiosity are associated with increased happiness,
both in the United States and across numerous nations around the
world. These results support earlier ndings that greater happiness
is associated with both political conservatism (e.g., Napier & Jost,
2008; Schlenker et al., 2012; Van Hiel & Brebels, 2011) as well as
religiosity (e.g., Francis & Lester, 1997; French & Joseph, 1999).
Importantly, the current results suggest that right-wing political
orientation and religiosity interact in predicting happiness levels.
The interaction stemmed from religiosity not having much of an
inuence on happiness levels for political liberals, especially compared to political conservatives. This interaction was present in
both the 2012 GSS and 2005 WVS samples.
Why would religiosity have a greater effect on happiness for
political conservatives compared to political liberals? It may be
the case that because of certain shared communalities between
religion and political conservatism, religion is more likely to satisfy certain psychological and social needs of conservatives compared to liberals. Of course, it is important to remember that
religion and conservatism are complex phenomena that are not
invariant across different times and cultures. However, certain
values, attitudes, and beliefs can be identied that are often associated with both traditional religions and political conservatism.
These include, to name a few, respect for tradition, a clear distinction between right and wrong, an emphasis on strong families
and communities, and a discouragement of potential negative
behaviors. It has been found that the link between religiosity
(specically evangelicalism) and conservatism is through underlying values, such as adherence to traditional moral values and
views on certain familial roles (Brint & Abrutyn, 2010). Furthermore, Lewis and Maltby (2000) found that attitude towards religion is correlated with certain attitudes that underpin
conservative orientation, such as anti-hedonism. It has also been
demonstrated that value-orientation moderates certain associations with subjective well-being (Oishi, Diener, Suh, & Lucas,
1999). For example, satisfaction with family is more correlated
with global life satisfaction for individuals who value conformity
to a greater extent. Moreover, because these underlying values
and traits have often been found to be independently related to
subjective well-being (e.g., conscientiousness; Hayes & Joseph,
2003), it increases the likelihood that the interactive link between
religiosity and political conservatism is through the shared personal characteristics associated with the two domains. That is,
increased religiosity may reafrm certain values and beliefs for
conservatives to a greater extent than liberals, which then may
lead to increased happiness for conservatives because certain personal needs are increasingly being met. However, future research
will be needed to disentangle the interactive effect between religiosity and political conservatism found in the present study.
The current results provide a potential explanation for inconsistencies that have been demonstrated in the literature on the association between subjective well-being and religiosity. For instance,
there has been prior research with undergraduate students that
has found no signicant relationship between religiosity and happiness (e.g., Lewis, 2002; Lewis, Lanigan, Joseph, & de Fockert,
1997). However, because the age bracket of undergraduates is
often believed to be, on average, more liberal in political orientation than other age brackets (Cornelis, Van Hiel, Roets, &
Kossowska, 2009; Saad, 2009), it may be the case that these null
results are due to the samples being disproportionally restricted
to the left side of the political spectrum. As the current results
demonstrated, religiosity did not have much of an inuence on
happiness levels for more politically liberal individuals. As a result,
it is important for future research to take into account political

M.T. Bixter / Personality and Individual Differences 72 (2015) 711

orientation when exploring the relationship between religiosity


and subjective well-being.
Results from the present study also provide a potential explanation for why religiosity is more associated with political conservatism than political liberalism. This is because politically
conservative individuals, on average, experience a greater increase
in subjective well-being as religiosity increases. Consequently,
political conservatives may be more motivated to engage in religious activities initially, as well as sustain this engagement over
time, because they experience a noticeable effect on their subjective well-being. Political liberals, on the other hand, are less likely
to experience an increase in subjective well-being as religiosity
increases, and, as a result, may have a reduced motivation to
engage in religious activities. However, because the current results
are cross-sectional, nothing can be said about the directionality of
the results. For instance, the relationship could be in the opposite
direction, so that people with higher subjective well-being are
more likely to be attracted to religious activities than people with
lower subjective well-being. Future longitudinal research that
tracks subjective well-being, political orientation, and religiosity
will be necessary to shed any light on the directionality of the current results. Moreover, previous research has demonstrated that
the relationship between life satisfaction and religiosity is contextualized by the degree of religiosity in a country (Eichhorn, 2012).
As a result, future research should also explore whether the interactive effects between political orientation and religiosity found in
the current study are modulated by the political climate or degree
of religiousness at the country-level.
Finally, though political orientation, religiosity, and the interaction between the two all accounted for statistically signicant proportions of unique variance in happiness scores (in both the GSS
and WVS samples), it is necessary to recognize that a large percentage of variance was still left unexplained in the regression models.
Partly, this is likely due to the combination of large sample sizes
and variables with restricted ranges, which can often make
extracting robust linear effects difcult because large numbers of
individuals fall into all response cells. However, as Figs. 1 and 2
demonstrate, it is also the case that the interactive effect between
political orientation and religiosity is probably not a large determining factor in why an individual would either fall onto one of
the two extremes of the happiness scale. However, because happiness is a complex phenomenon with many consequential correlates, discovering even smaller effects still allows a better
understanding of the phenomenon to emerge. Yet, future research
should include additional factors that have been shown to account
for large proportions of unique variance in happiness scores. This
would allow a more complete picture of happiness to be painted,
as well as help demonstrate the independent role that the interactive effect between political orientation and religiosity plays in
establishing individual differences in subjective well-being.
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