It’s the BAD economy stupid! Blaming the bad economy for Obama’s victory

28 Feb
A while back, political scientists were all a buzz (myself included) trying to interpret/explain the meaning of the 2012 presidential election. Some thought it signaled a shift (or exposed a gradual one) in the electorate dooming the Republicans in the future. Moreover, many in that camp argued that the 2012 election, with its bad economy, showed that “It’s NOT the economy stupid!” and that other demographic, cultural, and structural factors explain both Obama’s victory and the future ones they will enjoy. Others argued that “It’s the economy stupid!” and argued that a late-term economic recovery, however slight, rescued the president from defeat. Nothing has changed. In the latest edition of the American Political Science Review, John R. Wright argues in a sense that they are both right. In essence, he says, “It’s the BAD economy stupid!” An impressive study empirically, Wright shows that voters reward Democrats for BOTH good economies and bad economies, but only reward Republicans for good economies. Interesting addendum to that ongoing discussion, me thinks.  Here’s the abstract:

This article calls into question the conventional wisdom that incumbent parties are rewarded when unemployment is low and punished when it is high. Using county-level data on unemployment and election returns for 175 midterm gubernatorial elections and 4 presidential elections from 1994 to 2010, the analysis finds that unemployment and the Democratic vote for president and governor move together. Other things being equal, higher unemployment increases the vote shares of Democratic candidates. The effect is greatest when Republicans are the incumbent party, but Democrats benefit from unemployment even when they are in control. The explanation for these findings is that unemployment is a partisan issue for voters, not a valence issue, and that the Democratic Party “owns” unemployment. When unemployment is high or rising, Democratic candidates can successfully convince voters that they are the party best able to solve the problem.

Link to full article (requires subscription)


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