Michael Lewis-Beck, Economics and Elections: The major western democracies. (1988).

Main Argument:

Lewis-Beck argues that Western European voters are influenced by economic conditions, as in the United States, and they fit their assessments into a larger overall view of the fate of the collectivity [66]. In Europe, the impact of the economy on electoral behaviour is channelled instead through more complex or mediated perceptions of the impact of government policies on ones personal financial condition, both retrospective and prospective evaluations of national or collective economic performance, and anger over governments handling of the economy. The economy-vote relationships are generally stronger in Britain arid Germany than in France and Italy, which Lewis-Beck attributes to greater economic growth in the first two and more complex coalitional government (diffusing attribution of responsibility) in the latter.


Method: Cross national study (UK, Spain, Italy, W. Germany, US and France) using Euro barometer and other individual level survey data. Wants to move away from aggregate data.



== Notes ==


Chapter 1: Economic Problems and the Electoral Process: An Introduction


Research Puzzle: Is there a relationship between economic conditions and voter intentions? Are their varying responses between two and multi-party systems?


–  LB wants to look at electoral preferences of individual citizens [this is where there is variance between him and some other studies]



–  Various policies were pursued across nations to solve the similar economic problem of recession

–  No agreement among economist on how to solve problems

–  Therefore, expectation for voters to evaluate circumstances are too high; thus, voters react to the actions of leaders [8]


Chapter 2: Macroeconomics and National Elections: A Critique of Earlier Studies


–  In all individual cases, some element of economics affects voting intention either pro-opposition or away from incumbent in times of downturn

–  Does not necessarily imply that they are rewarded in good economic circumstances

–  US may have a stronger reliance on other factors [institutions, presidential candidate] but economics DO matter

*Macroeconomic downturn is associated with a fall in government support in all cases [29]


Chapter 3: Economic Voting: Theory and Measurement in the European Surveys


Do voters judge only retrospectively or prospectively as well?

– If retrospectively, voters have to make connection that party in power is responsible for their personal/national downturn in prosperity [cannot attribute to more local factors] [36]

– Therefore, this judgement is based in perception

– National data comparisons indicate that public perception of economic deterioration is accompanied by dissatisfaction with government

– Economic voting seems prevalent even in the US, though it seems to be made up of both simple and complex evaluations of national economic performance [50]


Chapter 4: The European Voter: Economics, Cleavages, Ideology


Estimates for the Model: [55-6]

  1. a) personal finance
  2. b) national economy
  3. c) government action making private life better
  4. d) government action bringing national prosperity
  5. e) what policies will likely bring in the future [*prospective]
  6. f) emotion evaluation of past government action


Vote = function of (economics, cleavages, ideology)


–  Voters do not appear to be short-sighted with respect to personal economic impacts, speaks favourably to their cognitive capacity

–  Punishment of incumbent appears to be based as much on prospective as retrospective evaluations and it is not derived exclusively from rational calculation [66]


Chapter 5: Noneconomic Issues, Class Interactions, Asymmetric Voters: Other Possibilities


Issue Voting:

– Voter appear to use the l/r dimension to organise the complexity of political reality, providing an overall orientation [Inglehart; 1984; 37]

– Occurs cross national study

– Economic issues may be more influential though [73]

– Issue voting does not detract from statistical validity of economic theory [75]

*personal vote, even when in combination with sociotropic variables, does not appear to impact voter intention [77]


Asymmetry in reward/punishment:

– European voters appear to reward government for good economic circumstances to at least as great an extent that they punish them for bad circumstances


Chapter 6: Economic Forces and European Electorates


– Prospective evaluations are at least as strong as retrospective

– Negative vote change as punishment is only a modest portion of the electorate [86]

– Varying weights may be assigned to specific economic conditions from one election to the next [93]


Chapter 7: Across Nations: Similarities and Differences


Three eco’c variables dominate the models irrespective of country:

– Retrospective

– Prospective

– Affective components of policy evaluation

– Macroeco’c indicators may serve as proxies for aggregated collective eco’c evaluations of voters


Are there relevant system differences that exist?

Hypothesis tested on: Coalition complexity/State capacity/Open economy/Eco’c growth


– Bonds between citizen and eco’cs are mutable [110]

– Britain shows the greatest electoral sensitivity to economic conditions of all the six countries

– Economic assessments are generally stronger than more traditional factors, with the exception of Italy, where social class and religion are more important


Chapter 8: Prospective Economic Voting: US


*using the 1984 Surveys of Consumer Attitudes

– Hard to outline on effective time frame to measure

– Have to incorporate party ID

– The presidential elections is one case where pocketbook voting could be statistically sustained [122] even so, it is future-oriented [133]

– If there is no mediating link between the economy and the government, then there is no reason to expect a vote switch [127]


Questioning prospective judgements:

– Are they real or rationalizations or partisanship?

– Effect is reduced, but sill significant and of equal magnitude to retrospective effect [130]

– People are re-elected because of what they have already delivered, but also because of what they are promising to deliver [135]


Chapter 9: The Political Business Cycle and Hyperopic Voters


Politiical Business Cycle (PBC): immediately after an election the winner will raise unemployment to some relatively high level to combat inflation.  As elections approach, the unemployment rate will be lowered until, on the eve of the election, the unemployment rate will be lowered to the purely myopic point [Nordhaus; 1975] [138]

– In other words, the belief that a government seeking re-election (and hence votes) manipulates macroeconomic factors to ensure that favourable conditions prevail when an elections is held

– Data arising from Nordhaus’ study does not indicate systematic presence of a PBC

– Does not find an electoral-unemployment cycle in any of his study of nations [144]


What about a party-oriented model?

– Different ruling parties will lead to different macroeconomic outcomes [146]

– Those looking at PBC’s should look at incumbency-oriented models with policy-instruments as the dependent variable, rather than macroeconomic outcomes [147]


Lewis- Beck shows that there is no evidence of variation with the electoral calendars of any of the five countries. Why are there no PBC’s?


– First, because of the difficulties of judging the most propitious time to deliver the economic policies which will create better economic conditions (and hence generate votes) have eluded most governments

– Second, he argues that governments, like voters, act prospectively as well as retrospectively, with the result that politicians will be held accountable not only for what they did do, but also for what they will do [151]. Electorate is not myopic: it is hyperopic, they are both forward and backward looking

– Therefore, to vote-maximise, a political party has to eschew a traditional PBC [151]

– The consequence is that governments are forced to offer constant economic rewards to voters, thus negating the concept of cyclical behaviour



Summary facts:

  1. US Presidential elections are the only cases of pocketbook voting appearing statistically relevant
  2. Economic voting is on par with partisanship and ideological concerns (if not stronger), except in Italy where social cleavages are more important
  3. Economic voting has been prevalent in the five nations at least since post WWII
  4. PBC’s do not exist b/c voters are sophisticated and hyperopic
  5. Differentiation between countries studied indicate that all take into account economic voting but in this order (most to least) UK, Spain, Germany, France, Italy
  6. Economic voting occupies a middle ground of importance between partisanship and current issues
  7. Methodologically, measuring economic conditions that influence voting is best done through individual level vote choice as opposed to using aggregate data – which has other uses in the study [160]