Economic Voting and Economic Inequality: U.S. Presidential Elections 1952–2012

Suzanna Linn, Jonathan Nagler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most economic models of election outcomes make two assumptions: voters look at the aggregate economy, and they compare the state of the economy with some fixed reference. We argue that the increase in economic inequality and slowing of overall growth suggest these assumptions should no longer hold. We propose a theory that allows voters to take into account the distribution of economic growth, and we reconsider different decision rules voters could use to evaluate the incumbent. Analyzing presidential elections from 1952 through 2012, we show that models using the economic performance of individual income quintiles are indistinguishable in overall fit from models using aggregate income to predict election results, but can produce different predictions given different distributions of growth. And we show that voters do not appear to explicitly compare economic performance of the incumbent with the out-party, suggesting they have reneged on their role as rational gods of vengeance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-620
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • economic voting
  • elections
  • inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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