HKS Authors

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Retrospective voting is a crucial component of democratic accountability. A large literature on retrospective voting in the United States finds that the president’s party is rewarded in presidential elections for strong economic performance and punished for weak performance. In contrast, there is no clear consensus about whether politicians are held accountable for the local economy at other levels of government. In this study, we use administrative data on county-level economic conditions from 1969-2018 and election results across multiple levels of government to examine the effect of the local economy on elections for local, state, and national offices in the United States. We find that the president’s party is held accountable for economic performance across nearly all levels of government. In contrast, there is much weaker evidence that the party that controls other levels of government is held accountable for the economy.


de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin, and Christopher Warshaw. "Accountability for the Economy at All Levels of Government in United States Elections." American Political Science Review 114.3 (August 2020): 660-676.