Economic Crisis Favors Incumbent Governments
The ongoing financial and economic crisis may bring about a major political turning point. Let us just consider the following observations: the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, was judged to be politically sunk just a few weeks ago, when survey polls showed the labour party 20 percentage points behind the opposition; however, as the stock markets have fallen in recent weeks, Brown has risen in the polls up to the point to contemplate a full recovery in electoral expectations. Similarly, while banks and markets fall down, Merkel in
All this suggests that the relation between economic performance and governments’ accountability can be changing in an important way. Traditional political science models of ‘economic voting’ assumed that voters rewarded or punished the incumbent rulers for the country’s economic performance during the most recent period. According to observations across a wide range of countries, voters would evaluate incumbent rulers in ‘retrospect’ to make them accountable for the economy because they believed that government’s actions effectively impinged on issues such as employment, economic growth and inflation. However, greater economic interdependence may be changing voters’ perceptions. Specifically, the international scope of the current crisis may be triggering a turn in favor of incumbent governments as a consequence of both a sense of government’s impotence and a reaction to seek refuge into the hands of the sitting rulers in times of emergency –in a similar way as it tends to happen with natural disasters, terrorist attacks or external aggressions.
This hypothesis has been tested with more than 400 state-wide elections in 75 democratic countries since 1975 in a recent article by Timothy Hellwig (
Indeed, these days voters seem increasingly aware of the limits of domestic policy makers in controlling the economy, as the examples mentioned at the beginning of this note suggest. Politicians, in turn, also tend to blame the current financial crisis on economic and policy factors beyond their control and originated in other countries, particularly in the
Two major implications can be drawn from this noteworthy turn. First, if economic internationalization reduces electoral accountability of incumbent rulers, the relevance of state-level democracies may be questioned again. Second, as Hellwig and Samuels just suggest at the very end of their article, we should now inquiry whether responsibility attributions may shift onto other political actors, including especially international and local governments. At the European Union level, at least, the coming elections to the European Parliament could become a major occasion for replacing the voters’ usual domestic motivations with the capability to advance Europe-wide concerns and identification of responsibilities.
Timothy Hellwig and David Samuels, ‘Voting in Open Economies. The Electoral Consequences of Globalization’, Comparative Political Studies, 40, 2007.
José Fernández-Albertos said...
Very interesting. It’s not that ?I said so’ because one of the co-authors., Hellwig, has a previopus article, which I cite. But it might be interesting [see below]
Does Internationalisation Blur Responsibility?
Economic Voting and Economic Openness in 15 European Countries
(Published in West European Politics, Vol. 29, No. 1, 28 – 46, January 2006)
In economic voting models, the electorate punishes governments associated with bad economic results and rewards those who provide prosperity. However, citizens do not always place the same weight on economic considerations when deciding their vote. This weight, it is argued, is a function of the degree to which governments can be deemed responsible for domestic economic outcomes. More precisely, the article hypothesises that when the economy is highly vulnerable to external economic conditions (and thus less controllable by the national government), voters will value less the information they receive on the state of the economy, and, as a consequence, electoral behaviour will be less influenced by economic performance. This conjecture is tested empirically using survey data from 15 European countries. Consistently with the prediction, it is found that employment expectations matter more the greater the degree of economic closeness of the country. General economic expectations have an impact on voting regardless of the level of economic openness, and no sign of pocketbook voting is detected. Also, the evidence seems to suggest that the internationalisation of the economy plays an exonerating role only under left-wing governments.