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Pew’s recent polling report, “Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009,” is chock full of fascinating nuggets, not least of which is its surprisingly robust finding of substantially increased political polarization over the past 20 years.  Also: the continuing demise of the GOP and the continuing triumph of more liberal social values among all age cohorts.  On the downside: environmentalism is looking pretty ragged.  Bloggers looking for inspiration should have no trouble finding plenty of good stuff here.

At the moment, however, I guess I’m in the mood for some idle chitchat.  Namely, how do we explain this particular chart?  Take a look at just the last two data points, which show the effect of the current recession.  Rich people feel lousy: their financial satisfaction has plummeted 20 percentage points.  But the recession has had only a minor effect on the financial satisfaction of the upper middle class and it’s had no effect at all on the lower middle class and the poor.

Why?  One possible explanation is that the bottom three classes had already gotten most of their dissatisfaction out of the way: compared to the start of the Bush era, they were already at least ten points more dissatisfied by 2007.  They just didn’t have much further to fall.  The rich, by contrast, had been getting richer and more satisfied all along, so when the recession hit, it hit hard.

I’m not sure I buy that, though.  It’s intuitively reasonable that when people get into a long-term funk over their stagnant (or worsening) finances, a new shock to the system just gets added to the pile and shrugged off.  But there are shocks and there are shocks, and this particular recession has produced rising gasoline prices, substantially higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, millions of home foreclosures, and a huge loss of housing wealth even for those who have kept their homes.  Those are the kinds of shocks people don’t just shrug off.

The rich becoming less financially satisfied is easy to understand.  But why is it that the non-rich seem to be mostly taking things in stride?  Some kind of weird Obama optimism effect?  A sudden realization that plasma TVs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be?  I’m a little stumped here.

(Via Ramesh Ponnuru.)

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