Media Release

Happy voters: or why it’s not always the economy, stupid

Happiness is more important than money in deciding how someone votes, new research suggests today.

The research, published by the Social Market Foundation and the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE), by authors Federica Liberini, Michela Redoano and Eugenio Proto, shows that the happier a voter is, the more likely they are to vote for an incumbent government party.

That finding, the authors suggest, helps explain why the Conservatives have generally polled well ahead of Labour even a time of falling real wages and squeezed living standards for many.

Using official ONS data, the paper examines differing levels of “wellbeing” in the different regions of the UK.  Those data show that even in some areas with weaker economic performance, happiness has been rising strongly. That, in turn, may help explain signs that the Conservative Party is advancing in areas such as Scotland, Yorkshire and the north-east of England.

The research challenges the notion, made famous by Democratic party strategist James Carville, that when it comes to voting intention, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.

Eugenio Proto, one of the report’s authors and Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, commented:

“Carville’s mantra has its basis in the idea of retrospective voting – the idea in the economic and political science literature that says that voters will examine their personal situation and reward, or punish, politicians for good, or bad, performance. Like Carville, most of the work in this field looks at the effect of financial and economic outcomes on voting decisions.

“Politicians would do well to pay greater attention well-being analysis and, especially, to enhance the efforts being undertaken to produce higher quality and more comprehensive measures of wellbeing.”




  • A copy of the briefing, Understanding Happiness, is attached to this release.
  • An individual voter with a high level of subjective wellbeing will be more likely to support the incumbent party; voters who are satisfied with their lives are 1.6% more likely to support the incumbent. As a comparison, individuals who feel that their financial situation has improved over time are 1.2pp more likely to support the incumbent.
  • The authors of this report are Federica Liberini, Michela Redoano and Eugenio Proto, and they are available for interview if required.
  • About the Social Market Foundation:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is an independent, non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

  • About the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy:

Established in January 2010, the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) is a research centre in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. CAGE is carrying out a ten year programme of innovative research. The centre’s research programme is focused on how countries succeed in achieving key economic objectives such as improving living standards, raising productivity, and maintaining international competitiveness, which are central to the economic wellbeing of their citizens. Our research analyses the reasons for economic outcomes both in developed economies like the UK and emerging economies such as China and India. We aim to develop a better understanding of how to promote institutions and policies which are conducive to successful economic performance and endeavour to draw lessons for policy makers from economic history as well as the contemporary world. Research at CAGE examines how and why different countries achieve economic success. CAGE defines ‘success’ in terms of well-being as well as productivity. The research uses economic analysis to address real-world policy issues. The centre is distinctive in providing a perspective that draws on economic history as well as economic theory and is applied to countries at various different stages of economic development.

  • Interviews/media enquiries:

Please contact Mercedes Broadbent, SMF Communications Manager on (0)207 222 7060/


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