Is Unemployment Actually Helping the Democrats?

This article calls into question the conventional wisdom that incumbent parties are rewarded when unemployment is low and punished when it is high. Using county-level data on unemployment and election returns for 175 midterm gubernatorial elections and 4 presidential elections from 1994 to 2010, the analysis finds that unemployment and the Democratic vote for president and governor move together. Other things being equal, higher unemployment increases the vote shares of Democratic candidates. The effect is greatest when Republicans are the incumbent party, but Democrats benefit from unemployment even when they are in control. The explanation for these findings is that unemployment is a partisan issue for voters, not a valence issue, and that the Democratic Party “owns” unemployment. When unemployment is high or rising, Democratic candidates can successfully convince voters that they are the party best able to solve the problem.

From a soon-to-be published article (gated, alas) by political scientist Jack Wright.  But those interested can contact Wright here.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.