Classic and revisionist perspectives on economic voting have thoroughly analyzed the role of macroeconomic indicators and individual partisanship as determinants of subjective evaluations of the national economy. Surprisingly, however, top-down analysis of parties’ capacity to cue and persuade voters about national economic conditions is absent in the debate. This study uses a novel dataset containing monthly economic salience in party parliamentary speeches, macroeconomic indicators and individual survey data covering the four last electoral cycles in Spain (1996–2011). The results show that the salience of economic issues in the challenger’s discourse substantially increases negative evaluations of performance when this challenger is the owner of the economic issue. While a challenger’s conditioning of public economic evaluations is independent of the state of the economy (and can affect citizens with different ideological orientations), incumbent parties are more constrained by the true state of the economy in their ability to persuade the electorate on this issue.