A brief clarification on partisanship and the economy

In one of my classes earlier this week we discussed how political partisanship is the single best predictor for how people vote in the United States. Generally-speaking, 90% of Republicans vote for Republican candidates, and 90% of Democrats vote for Democratic candidates (at least, that’s the way it’s been since the 1980s or so…). It was also noted, though, that economic conditions are also the single largest determinant of the outcome of American national elections. It’s easy to mix these concepts together, as I have occasionally done, and claim that the economy is the most important factor in explaining why people vote they way they do. So just to clarify:

  • Political partisanship is the strongest, but not exclusive, predictor of people’s vote choices.
  • The state of the economy is the strongest, but not exclusive, predictor of the outcome of American national elections.

And just to make it confusing, some political scientists have argued that individual-level partisanship is at least partially responsive to national economic conditions. In that way, it could be said that the economy at least partially explains vote choices among those who have weak or shifting partisan attachments.

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