Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Institutions, The Economy, and the Dynamic of State Elections by John Chubb

Economic Impact on Elections

There is a story of Bill Clinton and his campaign against Bush Sr. The story goes that in his bus, there was a sign over the door so that he would see it every time that he stepped out of the bus. The sign stated, “It’s the economy stupid.” It was to remind Clinton that although he might not be able to beat Bush Sr. in areas like national defense, he could use the economic downturn to his advantage to beat Bush Sr. and become President.
These articles seem to support that type of inference. In “Institutions, The Economy, and the Dynamic of State Elections,” written by John Chubb, There are three factors at play in the national elections, and therefore in the state elections – coattails, turn out, and the national/state economy. In particular, state election outcomes ebb and flow on the tides of the economy – especially those aspects which are attributable to the state actors (Governor and Legislature for example).
Additionally, the article stated that Presidents, senators and governors all have significant coattails which could be ridden by members of the same party to election. It would seem that this is not the case in the last California election. The down-ticket candidates did not ride on the Governor’s coattails. In fact, more Republican’s lost statewide seats under the coattails of the Governor than won them. It would seem to be that California does not play by the same “coattails” equation as most states would under similar circumstances. Or, it is possible, that this election was an anomaly in the equation due to various factors other than the coattails – or that the coattails of the Governor were an anomaly in this election. As I have not run the data through a filter or equation, I would not be able to tell you.
Additionally, this could be a situation where the coattails were only marginally influential (such as argued by the paper) and therefore there were not enough coattails to make a difference in the elections. Under the data gathered by the paper, an increate in 10% of the vote for either a governor, senator or the President, increases the seats in a lower house by approximately 3.3%. If this is the margin that an increase in voters for the Governor turned out, it is not surprising that there were little Republican wins as the margin of victory for the Democrat opponent was larger than the margin that the coattails would have increased. In fact, the paper goes on to estimate that the gubernatorial coattails are a -2.71% and so the gubernatorial coattails will only help if the candidate is popular to begin with. The Republican candidates were not popular to being with – so it is understandable why there were no coattails of the Governor to ride on in this last election.
One other interesting hypothesis in the article was that state government may be held economically accountable through retrospective voting. This is where the main focus of the article is. It is that the voters will punish and hold state government economically accountable by voting for members of the opposite party or opposite policies if the state does not provide a good economic outlook. This might be seen to be the case in many states, however there is not that type of competition in California. Due to re-districting that has occurred, and the manner in which districts are split up – it is not likely that votes would engage in this type of economic accountability – at least not through elections for persons to be in legislative and executive positions.
Now it is possible that this type of economic accountability would be held in the ballot box regarding policies. And you see this continually. Economic accountability is forced on the elected positions through the initiative process. This creates the certain policy constraints that were spoken of earlier in the paper. However, given the current state of electoral affairs in California, this paper would seem not to apply for the reasons delineated above.

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