Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2000
THINKING ABOUT ECONOMIC INTERESTS:
Class and Recession in the New Deal
M. Stephen Weatherford and Boris Sergeyev
In spite of a large literature showing the effect of economic conditions on voters’
evaluations of incumbent policymakers, little research has inquired about the breadth
or depth of the impact of economic conditions beyond elections. Do voters integrate
their economic perceptions with other political beliefs and attitudes, using them to
orient issue stands on relevant policy questions? Or are political responses to economic
fluctuations compartmentalized reactions to specific incumbents? And how do percep-
tions of short-run economic conditions compare with class, the primary alternative
frame for thinking about economic interests? We investigate the impact of economic
conditions on voters’ evaluation of the incumbent and on issue positions, systematically
comparing economic conditions and class as orienting cleavages, drawing on data from
the New Deal. We find that economic conditions had strong impacts on incumbent
evaluations during this period but that beyond this the economy had only small effects—
especially when compared with class—on the most salient economic issues of the day.
Drawing on NES data for later years, we replicate this pattern of findings for the postwar
period. The conclusion suggests implications for understanding both the political effects
of economic conditions and the structure of public opinion on economic issues.
Key words: class voting; public opinion; elections; economic voting; New Deal.
The generalization that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of
incumbent politicians is well established, even if there is some disagreement
about the specifics of the relationship.
We know less, however, about how
voters integrate their economic perceptions with other orientations and beliefs.
Given that short-run economic conditions influence candidate choice at the
polls, does the impact of economic events go any further than the vote?One
can imagine, for instance, that economic conditions might influence not just a
M. Stephen Weatherford, Department of Political Science, University of California, Santa
Barbara, California 93106 (email@example.com). Boris Sergeyev, University of California, Santa
0190-9320/00/1200-0311$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation