Comparative European Politics

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 695–723 | Cite as

Economic voting in Europe: Did the crisis matter?

  • Liisa TalvingEmail author
Original Article


Recent voting behavior literature is concerned with the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis. During 2008–2009, most European countries faced a considerable slowdown in economic growth and an increase in unemployment levels. Theoretically, this would lead us to expect strong economic effects on incumbent support. However, recent academic work suggests that diminishing clarity of responsibility makes it increasingly difficult for voters to attribute blame for economic outcomes, consequently making punitive voting less likely. Has the sanctioning-rewarding mechanism then changed over time? Was economic voting more or less pronounced during the crisis than it was prior to the economic downturn? Analyzing the European Election Studies (EES) data for 12 Western European countries in 1989, 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014, this paper finds support for neither proposition: there is very little abrupt change in economic effects over time. The statistical relationship between the economy and voting remained remarkably constant and was not subject to short-term fluctuations, even after the most dramatic economic recession in our lifetime. The stability of economic voting is particularly noteworthy considering that levels of voter dissatisfaction with national economic performance skyrocketed in 2009.


economic voting incumbent support economic crisis Europe 



I would like to thank Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Piret Ehin, Kristjan Vassil and Thomas Biegert, as well as three anonymous referees for their insightful, detailed and constructive comments. Large parts of this work were conducted at the University of Tartu and were supported by the Doctoral School of Behavioural, Social and Health Sciences and the Archimedes Foundation.


  1. Anderson, C.J. (1995) Blaming the Government: Citizens and the Economy in Five European Democracies. Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, C.J. (2007) The end of economic voting? Contingency dilemmas and the limits of democratic accountability. Annual Review of Political Science 10(1): 271–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, C.J. and Hecht, J.D. (2012) Voting when the economy goes bad, everyone is in charge, and no one is to blame: The case of the 2009 German election. Electoral Studies 31(1): 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellucci, P. (2012) Government accountability and voting choice in Italy, 1990–2008. Electoral Studies 31(3): 491–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellucci, P. (2014) The political consequences of blame attribution for the economic crisis in the 2013 Italian National Election. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 243–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bisgaard, M. (2015) Bias will find a way: Economic perceptions, attributions of blame, and partisan-motivated reasoning during crisis. The Journal of Politics 77(3): 849–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, A., Converse, P.E., Miller, W.E. and Stokes, D.E. (1960) The American Voter. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Costa Lobo, M. and Lewis-Beck, M.S. (2012) The integration hypothesis: How the European Union shapes economic voting. Electoral Studies 31(3): 522–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dassonneville, R. and Lewis-Beck, M.S. (2014). Macroeconomics, economic crisis and electoral outcomes: A National European Pool. Acta Politica 49(4): 372–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Debus, M., Stegmaier, M. and Tosun, J. (2014) Economic voting under coalition governments: Evidence from Germany. Political Science Research and Methods 2(1): 49–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. del Castillo, P., van der Eijk, C., Franklin, M., Katz, R., Mannheimer, R., Marsh, M., Norris, P. et al (1997) European Election Study 1994 (EES 1994). GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. Data file Version 1.1.0, doi: 10.4232/1.2865.
  12. Duch, R.M. and Stevenson, R.T. (2008). The Economic Vote: How Political and Economic Institutions Condition Election Results. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Duch, R.M. and Stevenson, R.T. (2010) The global economy, competency, and the economic vote. The Journal of Politics 72(1): 105–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Evans, G. and Andersen, R. (2006). The political conditioning of economic perceptions. Journal of Politics 68(1): 194–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fernández-Albertos, J. (2006). Does internationalisation blur responsibility? Economic voting and economic openness in 15 European countries. West European Politics 29(1): 28–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fiorina, M. (1981) Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven: Yale University.Google Scholar
  17. Fisher S.D. and Hobolt, S.B. (2010) Coalition government and electoral accountability. Electoral Studies 29(3): 358–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fraile, M. and Lewis-Beck, M.S. (2012) Economic and elections in Spain (1982–2008): Cross-measures, cross-time. Electoral Studies 31(3): 485–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fraile, M. and Lewis-Beck, M.S. (2014) Economic vote instability: Endogeneity or restricted variance? Spanish Panel evidence from 2008 and 2011. European Journal of Political Research, 53(1): 160–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Freire, A. and Santana-Pereira, J. (2012) Economic voting in Portugal, 2002–2009. Electoral Studies 31(3): 506–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goodhart, C.A.E. and Bhansali, R.J. (1970) Political economy. Political Studies 18(1): 43–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hellwig, T.T. (2001) Interdependence, government constraints, and economic voting. The Journal of Politics 63(4): 1141–1162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hellwig, T.T. and Samuels, D. (2007) Voting in open economies: The electoral consequences of globalization. Comparative Political Studies 40(3): 283–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hernández, E. and Kriesi, H. (2014) The electoral consequences of the financial and economic crisis in Europe. European Journal of Political Research 55(2): 203–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Indridason, I.H. (2014) The collapse: Economic considerations in vote choice in Iceland. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 134–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jacobson, G.C. (1990) Does the economy matter in mid-term elections? American Journal of Political Science 34(2): 400–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kanol, D. and Pirishis, G. (2016) The role of voters’ economic evaluations in February 2013 presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus. Comparative European Politics 6(1): 1–14.Google Scholar
  28. Katzenstein, P.J. (1985) Small States in World Markets: Industrial Policy in Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kayser, M.A. (2007). How domestic is domestic politics? Globalization and elections. Annual Reviews of Political Science 10(1): 341–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kernell, S. (1977) Presidential Popularity and Negative Voting: An Alternative Explanation of the Midterm Congressional Decline of the President’s Party. American Political Science Review 71(1): 44–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Key, V.O. (1966) The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting, 1936–1960. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kiewiet, D.R. (1983) Macroeconomics and Micropolitics: The Electoral Effects of Economic Issues. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Kinder, D.R. and Kiewiet, D.R. (1981) Sociotropic politics: The American case. British Journal of Political Science 11(2): 129–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kramer, G.H. (1971) Short-term fluctuations in US voting behavior, 1896–1964. American Political Science Review 65(1): 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lau, R.R. (1985) Two explanations for negativity effects in political behavior. American Journal of Political Science 29(1): 119–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. LeDuc, L. and Pammett, J.H. (2013) The fate of governing parties in times of economic crisis. Electoral Studies, Economics and Elections: Effects Deep and Wide 32(3): 494–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewis-Beck, M.S. (1988) Economics and Elections: The Major Western Democracies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  38. Lewis-Beck, M.S. and Costa Lobo, M. (2016) The economic vote: Ordinary vs extraordinary times. In: K. Arzheimer et al. (eds.) The Sage Handbook of Electoral Behavior. New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Lewis-Beck, M.S. and Nadeau, R. (2012) PIGS or not? Economic voting in Southern Europe. Electoral Studies 31(3): 472–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Magalhães, P.C. (2014a) The elections of the great recession in Portugal: Performance voting under a blurred responsibility for the economy. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 180–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Magalhães, P.C. (2014b) Introduction – Financial crisis, austerity, and electoral politics. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 125–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marsh, M. and Mikhaylov, S. (2012) Economic voting in a crisis: The Irish election of 2011. Electoral Studies 31(3): 478–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Marsh, M. and Mikhaylov, S. (2014) A conservative revolution: The electoral response to economic crisis in Ireland. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 160–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Miller, W.L. and Mackie, M. (1973) The electoral cycle and the asymmetry of government and opposition popularity: An alternative model of the relationship between economic conditions and political popularity. Political Studies 21(3): 263–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mueller, J.E. (1973) War, Presidents and Public Opinion. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Nadeau, R., Lewis-Beck, M.S. and Bélanger, É. (2013) Economics and elections revisited. Comparative Political Studies 46(5): 551–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nezi, R. (2012) Economic voting under the economic crisis: Evidence from Greece. Electoral Studies 31(3): 498–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parker-Stephen, E. (2013) Tides of disagreement: How reality facilitates (and inhibits) partisan public opinion. The Journal of Politics 75(4): 1077–1088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Powell, G.B. and Whitten, G.D. (1993) A cross-national analysis of economic voting: Taking account of the political context. American Journal of Political Science 37(2): 391–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rainey, C. (2014) Arguing for a negligible effect. American Journal of Political Science, 58(4), 1083–1091.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rattinger, H. and Steinbrecher, M. (2011) Economic voting in times of economic crisis. German Politics 20(1): 128–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reif, K. and Schmitt, H. (1980) Nine second-order national elections – A conceptual framework for the analysis of European elections results. European Journal of Political Research 8(1): 3–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schmitt, H., Bartolini, S., van der Brug, W., van der Eijk, C., Franklin, M.N., Fuchs, D., Toka, G., Marsh, M. and Thomassen, J. (2009) European Election Study 2004 (2nd ed.). GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA4566 Data file Version 2.0.0. doi: 10.4232/1.10086.
  54. Schmitt, H., Hobolt, S.B., Popa, S.A. and Teperoglou, E. (2015) European Parliament Election Study 2014, Voter Study. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA5160 Data file Version 1.0.0. doi: 10.4232/1.5160.
  55. Singer, M.M. (2011) When do voters actually think ‘it’s the economy’? Evidence from the 2008 presidential campaign. Electoral Studies 30(4): 621–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Soroka, S.N. (2006) Good news and bad news: Asymmetric responses to economic information. Journal of Politics 68(2): 372–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stimson, J.A. (1976) Public support for American presidents: A cyclical model. Public Opinion Quarterly 40(1): 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tillman, E. (2011) Political Knowledge, the Global Economic Crisis, and Voting Behavior in the 2010 British General Election. Paper presented at Conference on European Responses to the Economic Crisis; April 7–8, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.Google Scholar
  59. Torcal, M. (2014) The incumbent electoral defeat in the 2011 Spanish national elections: The effect of the economic crisis in an ideological polarized party system. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 24(2): 203–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tufte, E.R. (1975) Determinants of the outcomes of midterm congressional elections. American Political Science Review 69(3): 812–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. van der Brug, W., van der Eijk, C. and Franklin, M. (2007) The Economy and the Vote: Economic Conditions and Elections in Fifteen Countries. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. van der Eijk, C., Oppenhuis, E. and Schmitt, H. (1993) European Election Study 1989 (EES 1989). European Commission [Principal investigator], GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA2320 Data file Version 1.0.0. doi: 10.4232/1.2320.
  63. van der Eijk, C., van der Brug, W., Kroh, M. and Franklin, M. (2006) Rethinking the dependent variable in voting behavior: On the measurement and analysis of electoral utilities. Electoral Studies 25(3): 424–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. van Egmond, M., van der Brug, W., Hobolt, S.B., Franklin, M.N. and Sapir, E.V. (2011) European Parliament Election Study 2009, Voter Study. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA5055 Data file Version 1.1.0. doi: 10.4232/1.11760.
  65. Wlezien, C., Franklin, M. and Daniel Twiggs, D. (1997) Economic perceptions and vote choice: Disentangling the endogeneity. Political Behavior 19(1): 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsUniversity of YorkHeslington, YorkUK

Personalised recommendations