Political Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 865–887 | Cite as

More Misinformed than Myopic: Economic Retrospections and the Voter’s Time Horizon

  • Timothy HellwigEmail author
  • Dani M. Marinova
Original Paper


Retrospective voting is often considered representative democracy’s saving grace. But just how long is the retrospective voter’s time horizon? Do voters make decisions by taking into account evidence accruing over the policy maker’s full term in office? Or do they rely on information from the recent past alone? We address these questions through a unique survey design which leverages real-world heterogeneity in economic outcomes prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Contrary to conventional wisdom, our findings do not support claims that voters are myopic. Although they are able to distinguish between short- and long-term benchmarks, voters are no more accurate in assessing the former than they are the latter. The choice of time horizon also has no consistent effect on the decision to hold the incumbent to account. Our results question assumptions of voter myopia, revealing voters to be more misinformed than short-sighted.


Economic evaluations Retrospective voting Political knowledge Temporal benchmark 



Authors contributed equally to the project. We thank Ian Anson, Chris Dawes, Peter Esaiasson, Mike Lewis-Beck, Matt Singer, participants at presentations at the Val Opinion Demokrati seminar at the University of Gothenburg, 26 November 2013 and at the general conference of the European Political Science Association, Barcelona, 20–22 June 2013, and three anonymous reviewers. The assistance of Nate Jensen, Steve Smith, and The American Panel Survey is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

11109_2014_9295_MOESM1_ESM.docx (371 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 371 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Hertie School of GovernanceBerlinGermany

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