In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Economic Voting

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Vote and Popularity Functions
  • Election Forecasting
  • Survey Research
  • Retrospective versus Prospective Economic Voting
  • Self-Interest versus Altruism
  • The Responsibility Hypothesis
  • Accounting for the Political and Institutional Context
  • Endogeneity of Economic Evaluations
  • Heterogeneity
  • Measurement of Economic Conditions
  • Transitional and Developing Democracies

Political Science Economic Voting
Mary Stegmaier, Michael S. Lewis-Beck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0057


Voting is an act of political behavior that has been explained in a number of ways. A sociological approach may see the voter as driven by class connections. A psychological approach may view voters as susceptible to appeals to authority. A historical approach may count on voters acting pretty much the way people in the district always have. An institutional approach might pay special attention to the political barriers to voting at all. A geographic approach may see the voter appreciating the special eco-systems in which voters find themselves. A communications approach may focus on voter links to media and how they are swayed. A social psychological approach may stress that political groups, especially political parties, are key attractors for voters. Finally, an issues-based approach may stress the idea of a reasoning voter, who weighs the pluses and minuses of candidate platforms before voting. Thus, there are many, and varied, approaches to the study of voting behavior. Of those mentioned, economic voting comes closest to the issues approach, although it differs in that it emphasizes one issue—the economy. What holds economic voting theory together is the notion that voters pick candidates on the basis of their economic influence. In particular, incumbents who have presided over economic prosperity are rewarded at the polls, while those who are deemed responsible for decline are punished.

General Overviews

The literature on economic voting is large. Taken together, the articles and books on the subject number over five hundred. Therefore, reviews of such a vast corpus can be extremely valuable to researchers who want to get a sense of where the field has been and where it is going. The literature has evolved in terms of country coverage and methodology. Early on, almost all the work was on the United States. Soon it crossed the Atlantic, to the United Kingdom and France in particular. Now, there are economic voting studies of virtually all established democracies, and many emerging democracies. With respect to methodology, the initial work was almost all on aggregate time series. By the 1980s, survey research came to the fore. In parallel fashion, data appeared more and more often as a pool of nations, usually from a culturally defined region of the world. The earliest recommended work is Monroe 1979, which reviews mostly US studies linking the economy and elections going back to the 1920s. Paldam 2004 provides a more up-to-date evaluation of vote and popularity functions for several nations, particularly from the perspective of economic theory. In a related work, Lewis-Beck and Paldam 2000 examines the economy and election link revealed in different comparative studies. The authors organize this review around key themes, such as which macroeconomic variables are important, the time dimension of economic voting, and the stability of the popularity function. Norpoth 1996 provides a comparative essay on key theoretical questions and empirical findings in economic voting studies. Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000 offers an extended treatment of time-series and survey investigations and they point out the need for panel studies. In a latter work, Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2007 focuses on economic voting theory, as modeled and estimated in the survey research context. The latest reviews come from Duch 2007 and Hellwig 2010. Both are strongly comparative, examining studies from many nations.

  • Duch, Raymond M. “Comparative Studies of the Economy and the Vote.” In The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics. Edited by Carles Boix and Susan C. Stokes, 805–844. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    The central focus is on the magnitude and (in)stability of the economic vote over time and across countries. The author carefully assesses endogeneity concerns with economic evaluations and considers ways in which the political, economic, and institutional contexts mediate the economy–vote connection.

  • Hellwig, Timothy. “Elections and the Economy.” In Comparing Democracies 3: Elections and Voting in the 21st Century. 3d ed. Edited by Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris, 184–201. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2010.

    As part of a state of the discipline article, Hellwig analyzes how the political system, age of democracy, and democratic consolidation affect the strength of the economic vote across seventy-seven democracies. Also demonstrates how politicians may use their controls to evade blame for economic conditions.

  • Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Martin Paldam. Special Issue: Economics and Elections. Edited by Michael S. Lewis-Black and Martin Paldam. “Economic Voting: An Introduction.” Electoral Studies 19.2–3 (2000): 113–121.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0261-3794(99)00042-6

    A review of the vote popularity function literature, with an emphasis on the eighteen articles that compose this special issue of Electoral Studies. The authors assess the controversies of prospective/retrospective and sociotropic/egocentric dimensions in light of the new research and address causes of perceived instability in the vote popularity function. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Lewis-Beck, Michael. S., and Mary Stegmaier. “Economic Determinants of Electoral Outcomes.” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 183–219.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.183

    This widely cited review article provides an extensive overview of economic voting in presidential and national legislative elections in the most studied countries including the United States, France, Britain and Denmark, with other country and cross-national studies covered to provide a full picture of the subfield. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Lewis-Beck, Michael. S., and Mary Stegmaier. “Economic Models of Voting.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Edited by Russell Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann, 518–537. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199270125.001.0001

    A broad ranging overview of theory and individual-level survey research on economic voting. Primarily covers presidential and parliamentary elections in the United States, Britain, France, as well as cross-national comparative studies. Available online by subscription.

  • Monroe, Kristen R. “Econometric Analyses of Electoral Behavior: A Critical Review.” Political Behavior 1.2 (1979): 137–173.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00989992

    The author offers a detailed review of the earliest published research, from the 1920s–1960s, on the relationship between economic conditions and election results. She then reviews and critiques the burst of empirical studies on the topic in the 1970s offering topics that future research should address. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Norpoth, Helmut. “The Economy.” In Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective. Edited by Laurence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris, 299–318. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1996.

    A highly accessible overview of aggregate- and individual-level controversies and findings in the study of economic voting across democracies.

  • Paldam, Martin. “Vote and Popularity Functions.” In The Encyclopedia of Public Choice. Edited by Charles K. Rowley and Friedrich Schneider, 49–59. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2004.

    Summarizes the main findings in the vote–popularity literature across countries and considers them in light of the rational expectations theory. Paldam argues that rational expectations assumptions about voters do not match the empirical evidence in the literature.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.