Anderson Economic Group Work

Pocketbook Predictions of Presidential Elections: Pocketbook variables are almost always good indicators of electoral outcomes

Patrick L. Anderson and Ilhan Geckil

Political scientists have long known that “pocketbook issues” strongly affect the fortunes of presidents and other political leaders. Economists studying this relationship have established that certain economic factorssuch as growth in income, inflation, and unemploymentdirectly affect the votes of the incumbent party in the presidential elections. Other institutional factors, such as the number of terms a party has occupied the oval office, also appear to affect voting patterns.

We present a set of simple “rational voter” economic models, which includes economic and institutional factors largely known in advance of the election. Such models typically explain about 75 percent of the variation of the popular vote in presidential elections since 1916. Such time series models, however, are bedeviled by the lack of observations, since presidential elections are only held every four years. To address this weakness, we specify and estimate a model with two methodological improvements: First, we use voting and economic data from the twenty largest states over elections since 1980, estimating parameters using pooled estimation techniques. Second, we improve the specification of the relevant variables, such as unemployment and the incidence of “limited wars,” to more accurately reflect the motivations of contemporary voters.

Our pooled state model forecast indicates that economic conditions favor a narrow re-election for the incumbent President. We point out how some elections cannot be entirely explained with a rational voter model.

Also available from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) who awarded this paper for outstanding writing.

Please click here for the release regarding predictions for the 2020 presidential election.