Economic Voting in Latin America: Rules and Responsibility

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Authors Melody Ellis Valdini, Michael S. Lewis-Beck
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Paper Abstract The impact of institutions on the economic vote stands as a well-established proposition for the advanced democracies of Europe. We know less, however, regarding the institutional effects on the economic vote in the developing democracies of Latin America. Carrying out an analysis of presidential elections in 18 Latin American countries, we offer evidence that the usual Eurocentric conceptualization of the clarity of responsibility is not ideal for understanding the economic vote in this region. There does exist a powerful effect of institutions on the economic vote within Latin American democracies, but one uniquely associated with its presidential regimes and dynamic party systems. Rules for these elections—such as concurrence, term limits, and second-round voting—suggest that we should reconceptualize the notion of the clarity of responsibility in Latin America, focusing more on individuals in power and their constraints, and less on the political parties from which they hail. Replication Materials: The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available on the American Journal of Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: The large literature on economic voting has established certain fundamental political patterns guiding democratic elections (for current reviews, see Duch 2007; Hellwig 2010; Hellwig and Marinova 2017; Stegmaier and Lewis-Beck 2013; Stegmaier, Lewis-Beck, and Park 2017; Lewis-Beck and Whitten 2013). First, the economy matters for election outcomes. A government that presides over prosperity can expect to gain votes, whereas a government that presides over economic decline can expect to lose votes. Second, since the economic vote involves citizens attributing to government responsibility for managing the economy, the clarity of that responsibility has importance. In particular, the clearer these lines of economic authority, the stronger the economic vote. Third, clarity of responsibility itself may be clouded by electoral rules and institutions. Indeed, when such rules and institutions are sufficiently present, they can actually weaken the economic vote coefficient, as the seminal study of Powell and Whitten (1993) demonstrated. Melody E. Valdini is Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207 ( Michael S. Lewis-Beck is F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242 ( The authors would like to thank Andy Baker, Leslie Schwindt-Bayer, Sarah Shair-Rosenfield, and Matt Singer for generously sharing their data. In addition, the authors would like to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their constructive and thoughtful suggestions. Finally, the authors would like to express their deepest gratitude to the alchemist who saw their potential as a team: Tracy Osborn. This article is dedicated to the memory of Professor Gregg E. Franzwa. Such conclusions (i.e., an economic vote exists and can vary according to the role of institutions) stand on solid ground in the democracies of North America and Europe. But what do we know about other parts of the word, such as Latin America, where the democracies are more fragile and the economies less advanced? Fortunately, especially because of contemporary public opinion research breakthroughs, the claim that voters in Latin American democracies respond to economic boom-andbust seems beyond challenge (see the most recent comprehensive coverage in, respectively, Carlin, Singer, and Zechmeister 2015, chap. 11; Nadeau et al. 2017, chap. 5). However, on the role of rules and institutions and how they influence the economic vote there, we know much less. Below, we review economic voting literature on Latin America in particular, and on clarity of responsibility in general, and offer a reconceptualization of the clarity of responsibility through a less Eurocentric lens. We then present hypotheses on how the economy impacts electoral American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 62, No. 2, April 2018, Pp. 410–423 C ©2018, Midwest Political Science Association DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12339
Date of publication 2018
Code Programming Language R

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