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Atkeson and Partin: Economic and referendum voting

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Atkeson and Partin. 1995. Economic and referendum voting: A comparison of gubernatorial and senatorial elections. American Political Science Review 89 (March).

In Brief

In contrast to most previous studies, Atkeson and Partin argue that gubernatorial elections are not influenced at all by national economic or political conditions. Governors are evaluated only to the extent that they take care of the state's economy (despite their necessarily limited control of an open economy).

Senators, meanwhile, are reelected based on presidential coattails; a popular president's party fares well. Curiously, the authors do not expect senators to be held accountable for the national economy; after all, they reason, why would voters punish 1 senator for poor behavior by the other 99? (Comment: By the same logic, why would voters punish senators for poor presidential performance? Yet they do.)

Atkeson and Partin sum this up as a "functional responsibility" hypothesis: voters recognize that senators are part of a national legislature and governors are state executive. Thus, although senators and governors have the exact same constituencies, they are judged by different criteria.

Place in Literature

Carsey and Wright (1998a) challenge Atkeson and Partin (1995) on several points, prompting a reply from Atkeson and Partin (1998) and a rejoinder from Carsey and Wright (1998b).

Data and Methods

The authors use cross-sectional NES data to test their hypotheses. Respondents indicate who they voted for (in both Senatorial and gubernatorial elections), their approval of the president, and three economic assessments: personal (pocketbook), state, and national. As controls, the authors look at self-reported partisanship and ideology. As shown in table 1, senatorial elections are strongly driven by presidential approval; as shown in table 2, gubernatorial elections are driven by state economic evaluations.

See Carsey and Wright (1998) for a methodological critique.