The Journal of Politics


The Politics of Happiness: On the Political Determinants of Quality of Life in the American States

Ángel Álvarez-Díaza1, Lucas Gonzáleza2 and Benjamin Radcliffa3

a1 University of Notre Dame

a2 University of Notre Dame

a3 University of Notre Dame


Recent decades have witnessed the development of an extensive social scientific research program on the determinants of life satisfaction. We examine the role of political factors in affecting quality of life in the context of the American states. In particular, we ask whether the choices made by voters, as manifested by the governments they elect, and the subsequent public policy regimes those governments establish, determine the degree to which individuals find their lives satisfying. We find that the different ideological and partisan orientations of state governments, as well as a state’s pattern of public policies, have strong effects on satisfaction with life, net of economic, social, and cultural factors. The more a state attempts to insulate citizens against market forces, the greater is satisfaction. The implications for American politics and our theoretical understanding of the mechanisms that determine quality of life are discussed.

(Received January 24 2008)

(Accepted December 09 2009)


Ángel Álvarez Díaz is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 46556.

Lucas González. PhD Candidate. Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame. Professor at the Universidad Catolica Argentina, Universidad de San Andres, and Universidad Nacional de San Martin, Argentina.

Benjamin Radcliff is Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 46556.