Menu Adam R Brown

Notes navigation: Browse by titleBrowse by authorSubject index

Rudolph: Who's responsible for the economy

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Rudolph. 2003. Who's responsible for the economy? The formation and consequences of responsibility attributions. AJPS 47:698-713.


Arguments about retrospective (economic) voting overlook a central point: People must first attribute responsbility for the economy to the president, Congress, or both before economic concerns can influence voting. Rudolph examines (1) what causes voters to attribute responsibility to Congress, the president, the working class, or businesses and (2) how these attributions influence presidential and Congressional approval.

Theory 1: Predicting attribution of responsibility

Variables and hypotheses

  1. Divided government (perceived) can lead to less attribution of responsibility overall.
  2. Partisan rationalizations: You are more likely to give your party credit for good outcomes and blame the other party for bad outcomes
  3. Economic conservatives are more likely to blame business and workers, but economic liberals are more likely to blame the government.



Democrats are more likely to use partisan rationalizations than Republicans. This may reflect two problems in the design:

Economic conservatism does matter as expected. It makes you slightly more likely to blame working people or business.

Theory 2: Effects of Attribution

Presidential Approval

See Tables 4 and 5. Favorable economic perceptions always help the president, but they help much more when the president is seen as responsible for the economy.

Congressional Approval

Congress benefits from favorable economic perceptions only when it is seen as responsible for the economy (and to a lesser extent when business people are seen as responsible).

Comments and Criticisms

Interesting, but this should be replicated using a time-series analysis. This would have two advantages:

Research on similar subjects


Rudolph, Thomas (author)American PoliticsVotingEconomic VotingRetrospective Voting

Wikisum home: Index of all summaries by title, by author, or by subject.