Economic voting appeals in congressional campaigns


Although they agree that economics and elections are intertwined, theories of economic voting disagree on the policy focus (on positions taken or outcomes achieved) and time horizon (retrospective or prospective) that guides voters’ decisions. Most research on these debates looks at the considerations voters weigh. Instead, I explore the types of economic voting that candidates encourage through their campaign appeals. Content-coded advertising data from the 2004 congressional elections show that appeals focus more on policy positions than outcomes and more on the past than the future. Consistent with predictions from emphasis allocation theory, strategic incentives and electoral context shape the exact mix of economic appeals campaigns make. When promoting their own candidacy, politicians ask voters to think about (more unifying) future economic outcomes; when attacking their opponent’ s candidacy, they ask voters to think about (more divisive) past policy positions. In districts experiencing worsening economic conditions, voters are exposed to more information about policy outcomes; in districts where the incumbent is ideologically “out of step,” they hear more about policy positions. Studies that seek to evaluate competing theories of economic voting are thus likely to draw misleading conclusions if they treat the information environment as a homogeneous constant: Campaigns in different districts, facing different strategic incentives, encourage significantly different types of economic voting.

Political Communication 32(2): 206-228
Philip Edward Jones
Philip Edward Jones
Associate Professor of Political Science