The Effect of Relative Economic Performance on the Outcome of Gubernatorial Elections

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Public Choice






This article was published in Public Choice.

This study finds that one of the most important determinants of election outcomes in gubernatorial elections is the voter's familiarity with the candidates. When an incumbent governor seeks re-election, his party's share of the vote increases by about 7.3 percentage points, ceteris paribus. Likewise, when a former candidate represents the opposition party, the incumbent party's share of the vote decreases by about three percentage points, ceteris paribus. The electoral history of the state also has a significant effect on the share of the vote received by the incumbent party.

The major finding of this study is that state economic conditions exert only a weak influence on the outcome of gubernatorial elections. Assuming that voters are rational, a major implication of this finding is that voters do not view a governor as being able to substantially influence a state's economy. If, during a gubernatorial campaign, voters view the candidates as having little or no control over the state economy they will evaluate candidates on the basis of non-economic positions.

The results of this study seem to imply that the outcomes of gub ernatorial elections are determined primarily by non-economic factors. Factors such as candidate personality and positions on a wide variety of non-economic issues that voters deem important appear to be the major determinants of gubernatorial election outcomes.


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