Monday, May 11, 2015

Pocketbook Voting, Sociotropic Politics and the Psychological Framing of Voters

“People vote their pocketbook” seems like a rule of physics in political campaigns, as evident as the law of gravity. From breadlines folding out their pockets to make “Hoover flags” in the 1929 to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan that “it’s the economy, stupid,” common wisdom suggests that voters cast ballots based on what's going on with their wallets.

Scholars, however, have long wrestled with whether voter psychology can be reduced to “dull science” of economics when the thrills of electoral politics suggest something so more complex, unpredictable, and exciting. Studying election returns, particularly at the presidential level, provides fodder for the debate about how individual, sociotropic, and aggregate attitudes of voters reflect this kind of retrospective voting.

Though pocketbook-voting theory proves effective for predicting the outcomes of elections, it does not tell the whole story about how the country’s economic well being translates to voters’ choices. A successful economy enables candidates to frame successful messages about the economy at large that resonate with voters regardless of their personal economic circumstances. Even as economic considerations largely shape how voters weigh whether to reward or punish incumbents, an analysis of this phenomenon shows that how national economic conditions are framed in media and campaigns can effect how much these factors can influence voters.