It’s About Time: Election Timing’s Effects on the Economic Vote
The literature on the institutional constraints on economic voting has emphasized how voters hold politicians less accountable for economic outcomes when those politicians have less control over them (e.g., Duch & Stevenson, 2008; Powell & Whitten, 1993). This literature, however, is based on the highly problematic assumptions that 1) elections are fixed events that the affected politicians have no capacity to manipulate and 2) voters have a strong sense of the constraints politicians face in implementing their policies. This dissertation considers how our empirical expectations of accountability relationships change when these assumptions are loosened. While the literature on election timing has typically considered early elections to be the purview of opportunistic prime ministers, data collected in this project find that nearly 20% of early elections are initiated by opposition parties. The dissertation presents a theory of economic voting that is based on strategic politicians calling elections at opportune moments in anticipation of predictable voter response to economic performance. The dissertation explains that different types of elections result from variation in economic performance, the value of the current government, the expected value of a new parliament, and the capacity of both the prime minister and the opposition to call elections at will. Because the institutions that constrain or empower different actors in parliament to bring about elections covary with those typically used in clarity of responsibility arguments, the weak direct effects found in previous studies between institutions, economics, and election outcomes are better explained by the consideration of strategic politicians opportunistically timing elections. I show that the type of election mediates the effect of the economy on the retention of the prime minister in 19 parliamentary countries for elections between 1967 and 2010. The implications of the economic vote for democratic accountability are thrown into question, as the economy’s primary effect on election outcomes is through the incentive for strategic politicians to call elections.