The Lingering Anguish of the Clinton Voter

Donald Trump has succeeded in making blue-state America miserable again.
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Donald Trump has succeeded in making blue-state America miserable again.
Staffers and supporters react as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concedes the presidential election at the New Yorker Hotel on November 9, 2016 in New York City. Republican candidate Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election in the early hours of the morning in a widely unforeseen upset.

The day after the November 2016 election, liberal pundits re-assured Democrats that, while they may feel miserable at the moment, that melancholy was temporary. Research has consistently shown that, following an unwelcome shock, most people rapidly return to their baseline level of happiness.

Confirming that truism, in 2012, disappointed Mitt Romney voters bounced back quite quickly. But in this realm, as in so many others, it turns out the Donald Trump era is different.

new study reports Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton suffered a substantial dip in happiness that persisted for at least six months after the election.

"This impact is remarkable, given past research demonstrating the stability of subjective well-being," writes a research team led by psychologist Heather Lench of Texas A&M University. "National events can affect how people perceive the overall quality of their lives."

The study, in the journal Emotion, featured 1,019 participants—a mix of university undergraduates in Texas and California, plus 455 Americans recruited online. They filled out surveys at four points in time: three weeks before the election, the week of the vote, three weeks later, and six months after the election.

To gauge their level of happiness, participants noted on a one-to-nine scale how happy, angry, and scared they were currently feeling. Separately, they used that same scale to answer the question, "How satisfied are you feeling with your life, all things considered?"

Not surprisingly, self-reported happiness plunged among Clinton supporters the week of the election. But the scale of the decline was, to use a Trumpian term, "yuge."

Lench and her colleagues note that, in a famous 1978 study, "people who had become quadriplegic within the last year reported lower happiness than controls and lottery winners by a difference of about 17 percent on their scale."

In comparison, "Clinton supporters reported about a 24 percent decrease in happiness during the week after the election on the scale in the present investigation."

For them, losing to Trump was the equivalent of losing use of their arms and legs—and then some.

"The subjective well-being of Clinton supporters rebounded three weeks after the election," the researchers report, "but remained lower than before the election, and lower than that of Trump supporters."

Most strikingly, "the general happiness of Clinton supporters remained lower even six months after the election, although their life satisfaction returned to baseline levels."

In contrast, Trump supporters reacted like partisans in previous elections, reporting increased happiness just after the election, which faded to insignificance at the three-week and six-month re-tests.

"Participants who viewed both candidates as bad for the country experienced a decrease in general happiness in the week after the election," they add, "but no significant decrease six months later."

What explains Democrats' unprecedented, long-lasting malaise? For one thing, the researchers found that, among Clinton supporters, "more media exposure predicted declining happiness after the election."

Apparently all those hours of MSNBC took a toll—especially among those whose sense of morality is based in the traditionally liberal foundations of ensuring fairness and caring for others.

"Because moral issues were the focus of much of the rhetoric and media attention in the campaign," they write, "the election outcome potentially communicated that one's personal values either were shared by the country, or rejected by the country."

If you're in the latter group—and your news feed regularly reminds you of this rejection—it's clearly harder to feel happy. In so many ways, Trump is the anti-Bobby McFerrin.