Economic Discontent and Political Behavior: The Role of Personal Grievances and Collective Economic Judgments in Congressional Voting
It is widely assumed that political action is motivated most powerfully by issues that impinge immediately and tangibly upon private life. For example, this assumption pervades the aggregate research that has reported consistent relationships between general economic conditions and congressional election outcomes (e.g., Kramer, 1971). Our analysis of individual-level data, however, indicates that voting in congressional elections from 1956 to 1976 was influenced hardly at all by personal economic grievances. Those voters unhappy with changes in their financial circumstances, or those who had recently been personally affected by unemployment, showed little inclination to punish candidates of the incumbent party for their personal misfortunes. The connection between economic conditions and politics was provided, instead, by judgments of a more general, collective kind -- e.g., by judgments regarding recent trends in general business conditions, and, more powerfully, by judgments about the relative competence of the two major parties to manage national economic problems. These collective economic judgments had little to do with privately experienced economic discontents. Rather they stemmed from voters' partisan predispositions and from their appraisal of changes in national economic conditions.