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Winning with a bad economy.

The outcome of the 2012 presidential election was a letdown not just for Mitt Romney, FOX News, and numerous election forecasters, but also for proponents of economic voting. Incumbents are supposed to lose, not win reelection when economic times are bad. The country had suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression, recovery was tepid, unemployment stubbornly high, and the federal budget mired in trillion-dollar deficits. The general public was in a sour mood about the economic situation. Indeed, forecast models that relied heavily on economic variables predicted the incumbent president's defeat. So how did Barack Obama escape that fate?

Without denying the contributions of other factors, such as foreign policy, the personal qualities of the candidates, as well as the campaign, we propose an answer that keys on a critical condition of economic voting: the attribution of responsibility. This is not an unfamiliar concept in the study of the economic vote (for the latest overview, see Stegmaier and Lewis-Beck 2013). The standard assumption is that the incumbent party/president bears the responsibility for the current state of the economy. But this may not hold when the current state is, to a considerable extent, the legacy of the previous administration. Was Obama in 2012 seen as the major culprit for the bad economy? Or was it the Bush administration, under which the economic meltdown began? Bad economic times notwithstanding, the U.S. economy did show signs of recovery during Obama's first term. So voters would be able to credit the president with improving those conditions. Did Obama gain more from voters with a favorable view of the economy than he lost among those with an unfavorable view?

Using the American National Election Studies (ANES) (1) Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and Society Survey"), we have examined these questions, taking special care to control for the effects of partisanship as well as other confounds. Our main conclusion is that the American public was reluctant to blame Obama for the bad economy, being far more inclined to blame his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. It was almost as if Obama was running against Bush, not Romney in 2012. By saddling Bush with heavy responsibility for bad economic times voters largely shielded Obama from electoral damage. Obama was also credited for whatever recovery voters saw during bad times: voters were far more inclined to rely on positive views of the economy than on negative ones. While this type of asymmetric voting runs contrary to the more common type, where negative views carry more weight, it is consistent with the relative lack of blame placed on Obama for the bad economy. In addition, we probed the hypothesis that voters may operate in a prospective manner, as "bankers" rather than "peasants," to use a familiar pair of metaphors. It may not have mattered to voters that economic conditions were poor; what mattered was what economic conditions would be in the future. While there is some support for prospective voting, this type of orientation did not trump retrospective voting in 2012; nor did a majority see the economic future in rosy colors. In the end, it was the combination of blame and credit for economic conditions that helped Obama win with a bad economy.

Economic Voting

The standard model of economic voting treats the electorate, in V. O. Key's memorable phrase, as a "rational god of vengeance and reward" (1964, 568). On Election Day voters reward incumbents for good economic conditions and punish them for bad ones (For the latest overview of economic voting studies, see Stegmaier and Lewis-Beck 2013; see also Duch 2007; Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000; Norpoth 1996a). Candidates have proved quite adept at prompting voters to employ this calculus. Many may remember the notorious question Ronald Reagan used during the 1980 campaign, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" In his seminal work on economic voting, Kramer (1971, 134) put it this way: "If the performance of the incumbent party is 'satisfactory' according to some simple standard, the voter votes to retain the incumbent governing party in office, while if the government's performance is not 'satisfactory,' the voter votes against the incumbent." The standard model is all about the incumbent side of the electoral equation, the perspective on the economy is retrospective, and voters punish bad performance as much as they reward good performance. All that matters is whether economic times are good or bad, not if the incumbent government really deserves the credit or the blame for the state of the economy. Support for this model comes from a long list of studies that have probed electoral choice or presidential approval (e.g., Fiorina 1981; Kramer 1971; Lewis-Beck 1988; Lewis-Beck et al. 2008; Norpoth 1996b). It also pertains to congressional and gubernatorial elections (Atkeson and Partin 1995; Kone and Winters 1993; Stein 1990, Svoboda 1995). For the most part, it is assumed that voters rely more on their views of the state of the economy rather than their own personal experiences (Kiewiet 1983; Kinder and Kiewiet 1979).

The standard economic model has proved quite popular for election forecasting (for a comprehensive overview of election forecasting, see Stegmaier and Norpoth 2013). In the 2012 election, however, that model fared poorly. This can be seen in Table 1, where the electoral forecasts featured in PS: Political Science & Politics (Campbell 2012) are arranged by the magnitude of their Obama vote forecast. The first five of those models predicted less than 50% of the two-party vote for Obama--thus an Obama defeat. All five rely heavily on economic indicators that are consistent with the standard economic model. In fact, the Fiscal Model (Cuzan) and the Bread and Peace Model (Hibbs) were almost 90% certain that Obama would lose. Among the models that predicted an Obama victory using economic indicators along with other measures, most offered their forecasts with little certainty. Only two models attached a high degree of confidence (more than 80%) to the forecast of an Obama victory; one of them, the Primary Model (Norpoth and Bednarczuk) made no use of the economy at all. For the most part, forecast models that relied on the economy either got it wrong in 2012 or else were highly uncertain about their forecasts. How come these models were so bearish on Obama's electoral prospect and bullish on Romney's?

The main reason is that economic times were bad in 2012. The U.S. economy was still showing the scars of the Great Recession. Recovery was tepid, at best; unemployment, one of the most visible indicators of economic health, stayed above the 8% mark throughout most of the election year; such a level, conventional wisdom says, dooms the White House party. Additionally, gross domestic product growth remained anemic, well below a robust 3% level; consumers were bogged down with debt, still reluctant to spend, and the housing market was waiting for a sustained recovery (CNN Money 2013). Beyond macroeconomic indicators, perceptions of the economy were highly unfavorable in 2012.

Voters on Election Day 2012 rated the economy hardly any better than they did four years earlier, when the incumbent party lost the White House; in contrast, victory for the incumbent party in 2004 went hand in hand with a more favorable view of the economy. This can be seen in Table 1, which compares the responses of voters to common economic questions asked on the National Exit Poll from 2004 to 2012. In 2012, three-quarters rated the economy as not so good or poor, which is close to, although slightly below, the level in 2008. With regard to their own financial situation, more felt worse off than better off in 2012, just as in 2008. And as then, the economy was the most important issue for the majority of voters. Given the sour mood about economic conditions in 2012, it was not unreasonable to expect that the incumbent would be defeated again.

To see what kind of economy it takes for incumbents to win reelection, consider the 2004 election. That year, according to Table 2, about half of the voters gave the state of the national economy an excellent to good rating. They were also more inclined to say yes rather than no in response to the Reagan question: 32% felt better off, while 28% felt worse off than four years ago. And only one in five thought the economy/jobs was the most important issue in the 2004 election. Such a pattern of economic opinions, which predicts incumbent victory, was missing in 2012. So what secured incumbent victory in 2012 under economic conditions that were seen to be just as bad as those in 2008, when the incumbent party lost the White House? For an answer, we turn to the attribution of responsibility: who was mainly responsible, in the eyes of the voters for the bad economy? Did others get more blame than Obama? And did those attributions of blame sway vote choices?

Attribution of Responsibility

Economic voting requires attribution of responsibility for economic conditions. The standard model assumes that voters hold the incumbent responsible and cast their votes accordingly. But this assumption is highly contingent (Rudolph 2003) and need not hold in many situations and political contexts (Anderson 2000). What if incumbent comprises more than one actor (party, institution) as, for example, under divided government (Norpoth 2001)? A voter's ability to cast an economic vote requires clarity of responsibility (Powell and Whitten 1993). In the case of the 2012 presidential election, it is reasonable to question whether an incumbent is to be blamed for economic conditions inherited from his predecessor. By way of historical comparison, it seems doubtful that anyone blamed Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in 1936 for the Depression that had begun several years before FDR first took office.

While that may be hard to prove, data from more recent elections have shown that the attribution of economic responsibility affects vote decisions. One of the first instances of that sort found that, in 1980, voters punished the incumbent president (Jimmy Carter) for economic problems if they held him responsible for them (Lau and Sears 1981). The 1982 recession, in turn, proved costly for Republicans among voters who thought that President Reagan was more at fault than former President Carter (Peffley and Williams 1985). In 2000, a booming economy promised easy victory for the White House party that failed to materialize. How so? There is no denying that A1 Gore suffered in the character domain (Lewis-Beck et al. 2008), a point that the Bush campaign drove home relentlessly (Johnston, Hagen, and Jamieson 2004), or that Gore failed to exploit the economic advantage in a campaign that primed other issues (Vavreck 2009). Still one important reason was that Gore was not the incumbent president who had presided over the good economy and hence was not fully rewarded for it (Norpoth 2004; Rudolph and Grant 2002). In general, economic conditions affect the presidential vote much less strongly when the incumbent president is not on the ballot (Campbell, Dettrey, and Yin 2010; Holbrook 2012; Nadeau and Lewis-Beck 2001), though candidates with a record as vice presidents may benefit from a successor effect (Mattei and Weisberg 1994). Besides surveys, experiments have also confirmed the importance of the attribution of responsibility for economic voting (Sigelman, Sigelman, and Bullock 1991).

If voters withhold credit for a good economy from a candidate who is not the incumbent, will they withhold blame from an incumbent who may not bear major responsibility for the bad economy? With the Great Recession well under way before Obama even took office, would he be largely spared the blame for the poor economic conditions on his watch? To address this problem we used the ANES Winter 2012 survey that queried the public in some detail about blame for the recession.

Data and Measures

The ANES Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and Society") was conducted on the Internet using a representative probability sample. Knowledge Networks carried out the survey. Respondents were recruited through telephone and address-based sampling procedures. The number of respondents who participated in the survey totaled 1,314. The data were collected February 18-23, 2012. The weighted sample (poststratification weights) is highly representative of the adult population. As far as party identification is concerned, the weighted sample contains 38% Democrats, 28% Republicans, and 31% Independents. Blacks and Hispanics make up 11% each. Perhaps most important for our analysis, vote intentions favored Obama over Romney by 53 to 47%. Hence Obama was winning with a bad economy in the survey as he did on Election Day. This gives us confidence in the validity of our findings and also assuages any fears that using a survey conducted several months before the start of the general election campaign will produce different results than surveys conducted closer to the election (which were not available at the time of this research).

Our dependent variable in the analyses that follow is a respondent's vote intention. Because the Republican primary season was still ongoing, respondents were asked how they would vote in a hypothetical election between Obama and Romney, assuming that Romney became the party's nominee. Respondents were given the choice of expressing an intention to vote for Obama, Romney, or someone else. They could also say they were undecided or unlikely to vote. Those who were undecided or planned to vote for someone else, but not those who answered unlikely to vote, received a follow-up question asking for their preference between Obama and Romney if they "had to choose" between the two. An additional 250 people responded to this prompt, and their responses are combined with those who expressed a vote intention on the first try.

To probe judgments of responsibility for the economy, the ANES survey asked, "How much is each of the following people or groups to blame for the poor economic conditions of the last few years?" The list included President Obama, President Bush, Democrats in the U.S. Congress, Republicans in the U.S. Congress, Wall Street bankers, and consumers who borrowed too much money. Response categories ranged from a great deal through a lot, a moderate amount, and a little to not at all. This question set has two distinct advantages. First, respondents were asked separately about various people or groups, which allowed them to blame as many or as few as they liked. Second, the questions probed how much, and not simply whether, each person or group was at fault. This provides for a more precise assessment of responsibility than simply a question of whether Obama or Bush deserved more blame.

Blame for Bad Times

As can be seen in Figure 1, which arranged the various actors in decreasing order of blame for the poor economy, President Obama did not top the blame chart, nor did any political actor. It was Wall Street bankers, followed by consumers who borrowed too much money that received the heaviest blame for the economic calamity. Among political actors, former President Bush wound up the most heavily blamed, followed by Republicans in Congress and Democrats in Congress. Finally, there is President Obama who, out of everyone, came in last in the blame game--where you win by losing. In fact, 18% of survey respondents absolved him of any blame, compared to only 7% who did so for his predecessor.

The finding that Obama was blamed much less for the bad economy than was his predecessor Bush along with the parties in Congress and other groups may not have helped Obama win the 2012 election, unless Americans cast their presidential votes in 2012 accordingly. Moreover, any relationship between the attribution of economic responsibility and the presidential vote may be due to partisanship (Tilley and Hobolt 2011). Some will say that party identification shapes both blame assignment and vote choice, rendering the latter relationship a spurious correlation. Our estimation of the electoral effect of economic blame assignment has controlled for party identification as well as for liberal-conservative orientation, race, Hispanic group membership, age, and gender. For clarity's sake, the results for the control variables have been omitted from Table 3. But note that both party identification and liberal-conservative ideology, as expected, show up with highly significant estimates.

A logit model was used to estimate the coefficients. Blame attributions were scored inversely to the amount of blame: the higher the score, the less the blame. Thus, with the vote coded 1 for Obama and 0 for Romney, a positive coefficient for a blame variable indicates that the likelihood of an Obama vote increases as voters place less blame on that particular actor.

Only two blame attributions, as can be seen in Table 3, mattered for the 2012 presidential vote choice: Blaming Obama and blaming Bush. Judgments of the two groups that received the heaviest blame, Wall Street bankers and consumers who borrowed too much, do not affect the vote, nor do the parties in Congress to any significant degree. Blaming Obama for the poor economy has by far the stronger influence on the vote than blaming Bush. The former president is not equal in the economic-voting calculus. It makes sense that the current incumbent is the more prominent one; after all, Bush is not on the ballot in 2012. The finding that Obama's blame coefficient tops Bush's, though, might sound like bad news for Obama: as if blaming Obama affected the vote more than blaming Bush. But it must be remembered that the "blame" scale ranges from "none" (blameless) to "great deal." Obama is located, in the voters' eyes, more on the blameless end than is Bush. Hence the Obama coefficient tells us a good deal about the effect of him not being blamed for the bad economy. By the same token, the blame coefficient for Bush tells us mostly about the effect of Bush being blamed for it. Given the control for party identification, these results cannot be written off as an artifact of partisanship.

To convey a more vivid impression of the magnitude of these effects, we generated predicted probabilities of voting for Obama at the various levels of blame attribution, using Clarify (Tomz, Wittenberg, and King 2000, 2003). The vote model included the (significant) blame variables for Obama and Bush, along with the control variables. The predicted probabilities apply to a white male, aged 45-69, who is both a moderate and independent, and who blames Bush (Figure 2) or Obama (Figure 3) a moderate amount for the poor economy. Figure 2 depicts such estimates, depending on how much voters blamed Obama for the poor economy. Note that each probability is represented by a circle whose size is proportional to that of the group in the electorate. Overall, the likelihood of an Obama vote rises sharply as the tendency to blame him for the poor economy declines. Chances are about one in 10 that someone who blames Obama a great deal would vote for him, compared to about nine in 10 for someone who blames him not at all. With these two groups roughly equal in size, the net result would be a draw. The large middle group (blaming him moderately) is closely split, though slightly to Obama's disadvantage. Where Obama forges ahead is in the contest between two intermediate blame groups. There are quite a few more voters who blame him a little than blame him a lot. And he wins the vote of the former at about the rate (three in four) that he loses among the latter. All in all, it is enough to avoid defeat over a bad economy.

Figure 3 replicates this pattern for attribution economic blame to former president Bush. The range of these probabilities, to be sure, is not as wide as in Figure 2, owing to the weaker effect of blaming Bush. The chances are about seven in 10 that someone who blames Bush a great deal for the poor economy would vote for Obama, compared slightly more than two in 10 for someone who blames Bush not at all. The large middle group (blaming Bush moderately) splits slightly in Bush's favor, just like the group that blamed Obama to that degree. What greatly helps Obama is that the high-blame group outnumbers the no-blame group by a 4-1 margin. Had this balance been the reverse, it seems impossible for Obama to have won the 2012 election. The fact that Bush was blamed more for the poor economy than was Obama, along with the finding that these blame attributions influenced individual vote choices, goes a long way toward explaining Obama's unexpected success in 2012. But there is more to responsibility than assigning blame for bad conditions. Was Obama given credit for whatever improvements voters saw in the American economy on his watch?

Credit for Recovery

It seems farfetched to imagine how Obama could have benefited in some way from the economy in 2012. Psychology suggests that people are more attuned to bad news than to good news (Katona 1975). This, of course, would not help at all account for Obama's victory in the 2012 election; in fact, it would raise the bar even higher. A good deal of evidence has accumulated for a negativity bias in electoral behavior (Lau 1985). A voting classic claimed that a "party already in power is rewarded much less for good times than it is punished for bad times" (Campbell et al. 1960, 555). The pioneering study of presidential approval showed these ratings to fall as a result of an economic slump (Mueller 1973). Media coverage certainly abets this asymmetry by reporting bad economic news more often than good economic news (Soroka 2006, 2012). In elections from 1896 to 1970, economic downturns were found to hurt the vote of the incumbent party, whereas prosperity paid no electoral dividend (Bloom and Price 1975).

The negativity bias, however, has not gone undisputed. One study found voters to be "evenhanded in their economic judgments, voting for governments that are liked, against governments that are disliked" (Lewis-Beck 1988, 79; see also Kiewiet 1983). In the 2000 election, there was no evidence that greater concern with bad economic news kept Gore from winning a comfortable victory (Norpoth 2004). A negativity circuit is not hardwired in electoral brains. Moreover, how can we account for electoral victories, many by landslide, of FDR in 1936 and Reagan in 1984 at times when the economy was recovering from bad times? At such moments of change, voters appear inclined to give the new incumbent credit for improving economic conditions (Lanoue 1988). While we do not have at our disposal direct assessments of responsibility for economic recovery in 2012, we can infer a good deal from views about changing economic conditions.

As can be seen in Table 4, Obama benefited from the view that the economy had gotten better. The positive coefficient means that voters who held that view were more inclined to vote for Obama than Romney, and significantly so. This holds true with party identification, ideology, race, ethnic background, age, and gender held constant. The finding, of course, that good economic news pays electoral dividends for an incumbent is not surprising. It is what the standard model of economic voting predicts. What may be surprising, though, is that economic recovery registers with voters at a time when the economy is rated mostly as bad. Voters judge the economy not just in absolute terms (good or bad), but also in relative terms (getting better vs. getting worse). It is also quite noteworthy that feelings of economic worsening did not hurt Obama's electoral prospects as much or as significantly. The view that the economy had gotten somewhat worse actually had no discernible effect on the vote while seeing the economy as much worse mattered less significantly than the view that it got better. Many voters with an unfavorable view of the economy apparently did not blame Obama for poor economic conditions. This confirms the more direct evidence presented in the previous section that showed that Obama was blamed less for the bad economy than was Bush. More important, at a time when the economy was generally bad Obama got credit for economic recovery.

Figure 4 displays the probability of voting for Obama, depending on one's view of the economy. Chances were about seven in 10 that someone who saw the economy having gotten better voted for Obama. The president got credit from perceptions of economic recovery. Granted, Obama got almost no support from those who felt the economy had gotten much worse, but they made up a small proportion, as can be seen in Figure 4. Most striking perhaps, voters who had a mildly unfavorable view (somewhat worse) about the economy tended to vote for Obama no less than those who felt that economic conditions had not changed (same). This would indicate that Obama did not bear the full brunt for poor economic conditions.

What happened in the 2012 election replicated, on a much smaller scale admittedly, the 1936 election: with the Great Depression as a background, FDR got credit for any sign of economic recovery. At the same time, voters were able to discount the still poor economic conditions like high unemployment as the legacy of the previous administration. Just as the Great Depression had started under FDR's predecessor, so did the Great Recession under Obama's predecessor. Unfavorable views of the economy mattered less for the vote because the incumbent escaped major blame for the bad economy. If you do not blame the incumbent for the poor economic conditions, a negative view of the economy should not matter that much. Important though the attribution of responsibility may be to a voter's calculus of how to weigh good and bad economic news, a rival school of thought holds that voters are not primarily concerned with the past economy, but rather the future economy. Could it be that in 2012 Americans simply disregarded the bad times, looked ahead and saw a bright future under President Obama?

The Banker Model

A vote is inherently an answer to a question about the future: who should hold political office in the next four years or so? The voter's choice is supposed to be based on which candidate (or party) will offer more benefits in the future (Downs 1957). Considering the economy, voters should ignore the Reagan question ("are you better off now than four years ago"), and ask themselves instead, "Will the economy be better off in the years ahead?" The prospective hypothesis has received support in studies of economic voting (Chappell and Keech 1991; Fiorina 1981; Lewis-Beck 1988). Using a pair of catchy metaphors, MacKuen, Erikson, and Stimson (1992) have portrayed voters as "bankers" instead of "peasants." A banker is someone with "an informed view of the nation's economic prospects (606)," not someone simply looking at her pocketbook. Though forecasting is a difficult task, it is assumed that voters are aided by cues about economic prospects supplied by media coverage of economic news. This might be enough to make the average voters look as farsighted as a banker.

However appealing it may be, the case for prospective economic voting has met with strong objections. Even rational-choice proponents have questioned voters' capacity to judge future performance. Downs (1957) lets voters use current performance as the best bet regarding the future. Evidence from economic surveys shows that many Americans do not follow economic news; even more important, those who do not tune in hold economic views that are nearly indistinguishable from those who do (Haller and Norpoth 1997). The economic expectations of the American public largely track retrospective evaluations, though prone to an optimism bias (Haller and Norpoth 1994). In studies of political impact, retrospective evaluations either hold their own with prospective evaluations (Clarke and Stewart 1994), or trump them (Norpoth 1996b). Granted, this controversy has largely dealt with the impact on presidential popularity, not voting decisions. It leaves the door open to the possibility that the choice on Election Day might elicit a more prospective kind of behavior.

The ANES Winter 2012 survey asked how Americans felt about the nation's economy now as compared to one year ago (retrospective) and also how they felt the economy would be doing 12 months from now (prospective). As shown in Table 5, prospective views proved quite influential for the choice between Obama and Romney. At the same time, they did not trump retrospective views, which proved slightly more influential. Note, again, that controls for party identification and other variables were included in the estimation but were omitted from Table 5 for clarity's sake. What also muted the ability of prospective voting to offset the impact of a bad economy was the fact that views of the future economy were not all that optimistic: only four in 10 survey respondents thought the American economy would be better 12 months ahead. Prospective voting did not save Obama from the damage a bad economy was poised to inflict on his reelection prospects.


The outcome of the 2012 poses a puzzle that made many on the losing side angry and incredulous: How could an incumbent president like Obama win reelection during such bad economic times? Exit polls clearly showed that voters took a dim view of economic conditions that were quite grim by objective measures as well. Most election forecasts that relied on economic indicators got it wrong in 2012. So was the economy a nonissue in the 2012 election, trumped by foreign policy, such as Obama's success in getting Bin Laden, or missteps by Romney, such as his 47% comment? We leave it to others to explore those factors. The economy is too important to discard just because a certain type of economic voting did not work in the 2012 election. That would be like tossing out the baby with the bathwater. What took a hard fall in 2012, aside from the Republican quest for the White House, was the standard model of economic voting. This article has examined several alternatives.

Using the ANES Winter 2012 survey, we have found that Obama escaped punishment for poor economic conditions because voters blamed him less than his predecessor. The ghost of economics past haunted the Republican candidate in 2012. In addition, Obama got credit for economic recovery, even amidst bad times. Voters were more inclined to reward him for good times than punish him for bad ones, reversing the asymmetric pattern of economic voting that claims people are more attuned to bad news than to good news. While the electorate engaged in some prospective voting, this type did not trump retrospective voting; optimism about the future also was not the majority view of the electorate. Bankers did not win out over peasants in 2012. Note that our findings control for party identification, liberal-conservative ideology, and other factors, such as race, that certainly color attributions of economic responsibility. Our conclusions cannot be written off as an artifact of a polarized electorate.

The 2012 election represents a classic case of responsibility attribution for the economy at a time when current economic conditions arguably are a legacy of the previous administration. An incumbent seeking reelection is absolved from major blame for conditions that originate with the previous incumbent. Obama was the beneficiary of this attribution in 2012 as was, in all likelihood, FDR in 1936, under vastly more taxing circumstances. Obama's 2012 victory in the face of economic adversity is the flip side of Gore's defeat (Electoral College) in 2000 during an economic boom. Then it was a case of a candidate not getting the credit for good times that would be expected for an incumbent president seeking reelection.

Attribution of responsibility, of course, is a subjective matter. It might be impossible to assemble a jury of 12 unbiased and impartial voters to reach a verdict on the charge that Obama (or Bush) wrecked (or fixed) the economy. Electoral campaigns are bragging contests over who deserves credit or blame for economic conditions. Both sides hope to sway the electorate with their case. How this contest is resolved in the court of public opinion is a question that demands further scrutiny. Partisan media like cable news programs, along with social media, make unabashed appeals that may sway voters' judgment on matters that are as contentious as to whether Obama or Bush was more responsible for the state of the economy. While Fox News made no secret of its opposition to Obama and support for Romney, MSNBC did not hide its support for Obama and opposition to Romney. Both provided ample ammunition for viewers to blame their favorite target for the poor state of the American economy. It remains to be seen if these or other networks made their mark in the 2012 election.


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Stony Brook University

(1.) See

Justine D'Elia is a doctoral student in political science at Stony Brook University. Her research interests include judicial politics and the electoral impact of cable news.

Helmut Norpoth is a professor of political science at Stony Brook University. He is coauthor of The American Voter Revisited and has published widely on topics of electoral behavior. His current research focuses on public opinion in wartime.

AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank John Geer, Richard Johnston, Michael Lewis-Beck, Mary Stegmaier, Kathleen West, and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments.


Forecasts of the 2012 Presidential Vote

                                            Percent Obama   Centainty
                                            of Two-Party    of Obama
Forecasters         Model Description           Vote           Win

Cuzan               Fiscal Model                46.9           11
Berry & Bickers     State Level Economic        47.1           23
Hibbs               Bread & Peace Model         47.5           10
Holbrook            National Conditions         47.9           27
                      & Incumbency
Lewis-Beck & Tien   Jobs Model                  48.2           23
Abramowitz          Time for Change Model       50.6           67
Klarner             State Level                 51.2           57
                      Presidential Model
Campbell            Convention Bump Model       51.3           67
Jerome & Jerome-    State Level Political       51.6           64
  Speziari            Economy
Erikson & Wlezien   Leading Econ.               52.6           80
                      Indicators & Polls
Norpoth &           Primary Model               53.2           88
Lockerbie           Expectations Model          53.8           57

Source: Campbell (2012, 612). Only preferred forecasts are included.


Economic Views of Voters, 2004-2012 (Percent)

                             2004   2008   2012

Nation's Economy Now
  Excellent                    4      1      2
  Good                        43      6     21
  Not so good                 35     44     45
  Poor                        17     49     31

Family Financial Situation
  Better today                32     24     25
  About the same              39     34     41
  Worse today                 28     42     33

Issue that Mattered Most
  Economy/Jobs                20     63     59

Source: National Exit Polls, available from CNN Election Center.


Economic Blame and the 2012 Vote

Variable                              Logit Coefficient (S.E.)

Blaming Poor Economic Conditions on
  President Obama                      1.008 *** (0.167)
  President Bush                      -0.414 ** (0.157)
  Democrats in Congress                0.386 (0.251)
  Republicans in Congress             -0.344 (0.237)
  Wall Street Bankers                 -0.216(0.172)
  Consumers Who Borrowed Too Much      0.125 (0.152)
Constant                              -3.166 *** (0.957)
N                                      1143
Pseudo [R.sup.2]                       0.599

Source: ANES Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and
Society Survey").

Note: The dependent variable is the 2012 presidential vote
preference (1 = Obama, 0 = Romney). Not shown in the table are
the estimates for control variables: Party identification,
Ideology, Black, Hispanic, Age, and Gender.

* p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001.


Views of the Economic Recovery and the 2012 Vote

Variable                                      Logit Coefficient (S.E.)

Nation's Economy Now Compared to a Year Ago
  Better                                      1.390 *** (0.274)
  Somewhat Worse                              0.071 (0.357)
  Much Worse                                  -1.778 ** (0.688)
Constant                                      -0.490 (0.769)
N                                             1143
Pseudo [R.sup.2]                              0.527

Source: ANES Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and
Society Survey").

Note: The dependent variable is the 2012 presidential vote
preference (1 = Obama, 0 = Romney). Given the small number of
respondents who saw the economy getting "much better," this
category has been combined with "somewhat better." Not shown in
the table are the estimates for control variables: Party
identification, Ideology, Black, Hispanic, Age, and Gender.

* p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001.


Retrospective vs. Prospective Views of the Economy and the 2012 Vote

Variable                                      Logit Coefficient (S.E.)

Nation's Economy Now Compared to a Year Ago   0.552 *** (0.189)
Nation's Economy 12 Months from Now           0.530 *** (0.194)
Constant                                      2.877 *** (0.257)
N                                             1142
Pseudo [R.sup.2]                              0.530

Source: ANES Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and
Society Survey").

Note: The dependent variable is the 2012 presidential vote
preference (1 = Obama, 0 = Romney). Not shown in the table are the
estimates for control variables: Party identification, Ideology,
Black, Hispanic, Age, and Gender.

* p < .05 ** P <.01 *** p < .001.


Retrospective vs. Prospective Views of the Economy and the 2012 Vote

Variable                                      Logit Coefficient (S.E.)

Nation's Economy Now Compared to a Year Ago   0.552 *** (0.189)
Nation's Economy 12 Months from Now           0.530 *** (0.194)
Constant                                      2.877 *** (0.257)
N                                             1142
Pseudo [R.sup.2]                              0.530

Source: ANES Winter 2012 survey ("Evaluations of Government and
Society Survey").

Note: The dependent variable is the 2012 presidential vote
preference (1 = Obama, 0 = Romney). Not shown in the table are
the estimates for control variables: Party identification,
Ideology, Black, Hispanic, Age, and Gender.

* p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001.

FIGURE 1. Who Is To Blame for Poor Economic Conditions?

              Great Deal   Lot   Moderate   Little   None

Wall Street       44       26      18         6        4
Consumers         29       29      24        11        4
Bush              27       20      25        17        7
Republicans       23       26      29        14        4
Democrats         21       23      32        35        5
Obama             19       15      23        20       18

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Author:D'Elia, Justine; Norpoth, Helmut
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2014
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