Earlier researchers have already identified
some systematic biases that undermine retrospective voting.Voters myopically reward and punish
politicians for recent economic
performance.(Bartels 2010; Achen and
Bartels 2008, 2004a)Partisanship heavily
distorts voters' attributional judgments. (Marsh and Tilley 2009; Rudolph 2006,
2003a, 2003b; Bartels 2002)Supporters
of incumbent parties are eager to credit the government for good outcomes and
reluctant to blame it for bad outcomes, opponents of incumbent parties do the
opposite - and both sides can't be right.Voters also reward and punish politicians for outcomes that are clearly
irrelevant or beyond their control, such as local football victories, world oil
prices, and the state of the world economy. (Wolfers 2011; Healy, Malhotra, and
Mo 2010; Leigh 2009; Achen and Bartels 2004b)Arceneaux and Stein (2006) report that many voters incorrectly blamed the
incumbent mayor of the city of Houston for the county government's flood policy.Iyengar (1989: 878) finds important framing effects: "agents of causal
responsibility are viewed negatively while agents of treatment responsibility
are viewed positively."Healy and
Malhotra (2009) show that voters reward politicians for disaster relief
spending, but not disaster prevention spending, even though prevention is
demonstrably more cost-effective.Marsh
and Tilley (2009), Tilley, Garry, and Bold (2008), Arceneaux and Stein (2006),
Rudolph (2003a), and Gomez and Wilson (2001) find systematic effects of
education and/or political sophistication on attributional judgments.
But be forewarned:
Our results do not imply, of course, that the American public's beliefs about
political influence are biased in every conceivable respect.Voters' attributional judgments often respond
in rational ways to divided government (Rudolph 2003a; Whitten and Palmer 1999;
Lewis-Beck 1997; Leyden and Borrelli 1995; Alesina and Rosenthal 1995; Powell
and Whitten 1993) and federalism (Arceneaux 2006; Anderson 2006; Cutler 2004;
Stein 1990).Nevertheless, the American
public's beliefs about political influence are
biased in some important respects, raising serious questions about the ability
of retrospective voting to circumvent other slippages in the democratic
Achen, Christopher, and Larry Bartels.2008."Myopic Retrospection and
Party Realignment in the Great Depression."Working Paper, PrincetonUniversity.
Achen, Christopher, and Bartels, Larry.2004a."Musical Chairs:
Pocketbook Voting and the Limits of Democratic Accountability."Working Paper, PrincetonUniversity.
Achen, Christopher, and Bartels, Larry. 2004b. "Blind Retrospection Electoral Responses
to Drought, Flu, and Shark Attacks."Working Paper, PrincetonUniversity.
Alesina, Alberto, and
Politics, Divided Government, and the Economy.Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Anderson, Cameron.2006."Economic Voting and Multilevel Governance: A Comparative Individual-Level
Analysis."American Journal of Political Science 50(2): 449-63.
Kevin.2006."The Federal Face of Voting: Are Elected
Officials Held Accountable for the Functions Relevant to Their Office?"Political
Psychology 27(5): 731-54.
Arceneaux, Kevin, and
Robert Stein.2006."Who is Held Responsible When Disaster
Strikes? The Attribution of Responsibility for a Natural Disaster in an Urban
Election."Journal of Urban Affairs 28(1): 43-53.
Bartels, Larry.2010.Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of
the New Gilded Age.Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity Press.
Bartels, Larry.2002."Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions."Political
Behavior 24(2): 117-50.
Cutler, Fred.2008."Whodunnit?Voters and
Responsibility in Canadian Federalism."Canadian Journal of Political Science
Gomez, Brad and J. Wilson.2001."Political Sophistication and Economic Voting in the American
Electorate: A Theory of Heterogeneous Attribution." American Journal of Political Science 45(4): 899-914.
Andrew, and Neil Malhotra.2009."Myopic Voters and Natural Disaster
Policy."American Political Science Review 103(3): 387-406
Andrew, Neil Malhotra, and Cecilia Hyunjung Mo. 2010."Irrelevant Events Affect
Voters' Evaluations of Government Performance." Proceedings
of the NationalAcademy
of Sciences 107(29): 12804-09.
Iyengar, Shanto.1989."How Citizens Think About National Issues: A Matter of
Responsibility."American Journal of Political Science 33(4): 878-900.
the World Economy Swing National Elections?" Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 71(2): 163-81.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S.1997."Who's the Chef?Economic Voting
Under a Dual Executive." European Journal
of Political Research 31: 315-25.
Leyden, Kevin, and Stephen Borrelli.1995."The Effect of State Economic Conditions on Gubernatorial Elections:
Does Unified Government Make a Difference?"Political Research Quarterly
Marsh, Michael, and James Tilley.2009."The Attribution of Credit
and Blame to Governments and Its Impact on Vote Choice."British
Journal of Political Science 40: 115-34.
Powell, G., and Guy Whitten.1993."A Cross-National Analysis of Economic Voting: Taking Account of the
Political Context" American Journal of
Political Science 37(2): 391-414.
Thomas.2006."Triangulating Political Responsibility: The
Motivated Formation of Responsibility Judgments."Political
Psychology 27(1): 99-122.
Thomas.2003a."Institutional Context and the Assignment of
Political Responsibility."Journal of Politics 65(1): 190-215.
Thomas.2003b."Who's Responsible for the Economy?The Formation and Consequences of
Responsibility Attributions."American Journal of Political Science
Stein, Robert.1990."Economic Voting for Governor and U.S. Senator: The Electoral
Consequences of Federalism" Journal of
Politics 52(1): 29-53.
Tilley, James, John Garry,
and Tessa Bold.2008."Perceptions and Reality: Economic Voting at
the 2004 European Parliament Elections."European Journal of Political
Research 47(5): 665-86.
Whitten, Guy, and Harvey Palmer.1999."Cross-National
Analyses of Economic Voting."Electoral Studies 18(1): 49-67.
Justin. 2011."Are Voters Rational?Evidence from Gubernatorial Elections."Working Paper, University of Pennsylvania.