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Stein: Economic voting for governor and U.S. Senator

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.

Stein. 1990. Economic voting for governor and U.S. Senator: The electoral consequences of federalism. Journal of Politics 52 (February).

In Brief

Federalism serves as a cue in voting. Voters recognize that the federal government has much greater control over both national and regional economies than state governments do (given that state economies are open, state governments are highly constrained in their economic options). Uses survey data.


Senatorial elections are strongly influenced by economic evaluations (we're not using economic conditions here, only economic evaluations). The president's party does better when the economy is strong. Both incumbents and challengers of the president's party are affected.

In gubernatorial elections, there is a similar effect, but of a different character. Voters were asked in the survey who was responsible for economic problems: The president, the governor, both, or neither. Those who assigned responsibility to the governor were also less likely to vote for the governor. But even here, the governor's culpability appears restricted. Democratic governors (this is during Reagan's presidency) are not punished for a poor state economy, only Republican governors are. This suggests that voters wish to "send a message" to the president's party; Peltzman (1987) advances a similar logic.

Comments and Criticism

There's something funny about Tables 3 and 4. In table 3, it appears that no voters hold the governor accountable for the state's economy, but in table 4, the opposite appears to be true. Yet Stein speaks as though voters claim not to evaluate the governor much based on the economy. Curious.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Stein, Robert (author)American PoliticsState Politics (U.S.)Gubernatorial ElectionsFederalismVotingRetrospective Voting

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