A Caltech Library Service

The ecological fallacy revisited: Aggregate- versus individual-level findings on economics and elections, and sociotropic voting

Kramer, Gerald H. (1983) The ecological fallacy revisited: Aggregate- versus individual-level findings on economics and elections, and sociotropic voting. American Political Science Review, 77 (1). pp. 92-111. ISSN 0003-0554. doi:10.2307/1956013.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Several aggregate-level studies have found a relationship between macroeconomic conditions and election outcomes, operating in intuitively plausible directions. More recent survey-based studies, however, have been unable to detect any comparable relationship operating at the individual-voter level. This persistent discrepancy is puzzling. One recently proposed explanation for it is that voters actually behave in an altruistic or “sociotropic” fashion, responding to economic events only as they affect the general welfare, rather than in terms of self-interested “pocketbook” considerations. It is argued here that the discrepancies between the macro- and microlevel studies are a statistical artifact, arising from the fact that observable changes in individual welfare actually consist of two unobservable components, a government-induced (and politically relevant) component, and an exogenous component caused by life-cycle and other politically irrelevant factors. Because of this, individual level cross-sectional estimates of the effects of welfare changes on voting are badly biased and are essentially unrelated to the true values of the behavioral parameters of interest: they will generally be considerable underestimates and may even be of the wrong sign. An aggregate-level time-series analysis, on the other hand, will often yield reasonably good (if somewhat attenuated) estimates of the underlying individual-level effects of interest. Therefore, in this case, individual behavior is best investigated with aggregate- rather than individual-level data. It is also shown that the evidence for sociotropic voting is artifactual, in the sense that the various findings and evidence which ostensibly show sociotropic behavior are all perfectly compatible with the null hypothesis of self-interested, pocketbook voting.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription ItemWorking Paper
Additional Information:© American Political Science Association 1983. Published online: 01 August 2014. This work was occasioned by a discussion at the Southern California Political Behavior Seminar. I am indebted to the seminar participants, and also to J. Alt, P. Converse, M. Fiorina, D. Hibbs, M. Kousser, G. Marcus, P. Shively, E. Tufte, and especially to R. Kiewiet for helpful comments and criticisms. Formerly SSWP 424.
Subject Keywords:Voting, Voting behavior, Political partisanship, Time series, Aggregate income, Political science, Self interest, Wellbeing, Incumbents, Empirical evidence
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171116-140426785
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:83260
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:16 Nov 2017 22:21
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 19:56

Repository Staff Only: item control page