Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 March 2020
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. By contrast, there is no clear consensus about whether politicians are held accountable for the local economy at other levels of government, nor how voters react to the economy in a complex system of multilevel responsibility. In this study, we use administrative data on county-level economic conditions from 1969 to 2018 and election results across multiple levels of government to examine the effect of the local economy on elections for local, state, and federal offices in the United States. We find that the president’s party is held accountable for economic performance across nearly all levels of government. We also find that incumbents are held accountable for the economy in U.S. House and gubernatorial elections. Our findings have broad implications for literatures on representation, accountability, and elections.
We wish to thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback. We are also grateful to Eric Guntermann, Martin Vinæs Larsen, Mike Sances, and seminar participants at UCLA, Stanford, the Harvard Kennedy School, and Brown University for their feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/YDBMNI.