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 perceptions 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.
Political Behavior – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 16, 2004
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