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CEP discussion paper
Is happiness a predictor of election results?
George Ward
April 2015
Paper No' CEPDP1343:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: I31; D72

Tags: subjective well-being; political agency; elections

Is it in politicians’ interest to focus policy on subjective well-being (SWB)? Many governments and international organisations have recently begun to measure progress at least partly in terms of the population’s SWB or “happiness”. This paper investigates the extent to which citizens themselves judge national success in such terms. Using cross-country panel data, the analysis shows that the electoral fate of governing parties is associated not only with the state of the macroeconomy—as a substantial literature on ‘economic voting’ suggests—but also with the electorate’s wider well-being. A country’s aggregate level of SWB is able to account for more of the variance in government vote share than standard macroeconomic variables. This is consistent with a simple political agency model, and has implications for the incentives faced by politicians to act in the interests of voters.