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Published April 1981 | public
Journal Article

Sociotropic Politics: The American Case


American elections depend substantially on the vitality of the national economy. Prosperity benefits candidates for the House of Representatives from the incumbent party (defined as the party that controls the presidency at the time of the election), whereas economic downturns enhance the electoral fortunes of opposition candidates. Short-term fluctuations in economic conditions also appear to affect the electorate's presidential choice, as well as the level of public approval conferred upon the president during his term. By this evidence, the political consequences of macroeconomic conditions are both pervasive and powerful. But just how do citizens know whether the incumbent party has succeeded or failed? What kinds of economic evidence do people weigh in their political appraisals? The purpose of our paper is to examine two contrasting depictions of individual citizens – one emphasizing the political significance of citizens' own economic predicaments, the other stressing the political importance of citizens' assessments of the nation's economic predicament - that might underlie the aggregate entwining of economics and politics. Ours is an inquiry into the political economy of individual citizens.

Additional Information

© 1981 Cambridge University Press. Published online: 27 January 2009. Data for this paper were provided by the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, University of Michigan. The Consortium of course bears no responsibility for our interpretations or conclusions. A preliminary version of this paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, New York, 1978. We would like to thank the journal's two anonymous referees, Jack Citrin, Faye Crosby, Robert Jervis, Richard Merelman, David Sears, Steven Weatherford, and particularly Janet Weiss for their helpful comments and criticisms.

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