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Governments are not always punished for economic crises

The government is not always punished for economic crises. If an incumbent government succeeds in mastering the issue of employment, it may avoid punishment by the voters, and in certain cases, may actually benefit from economic downturns. This is the conclusion of a new dissertation in political science from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

In his dissertation, Johan Martinsson demonstrates that the support of voters for a government in power in times of economic changes is affected by more factors than previously believed.

Previous research has often not taken into account the fact that economic changes also affect the agenda of the electorate. In a crisis with increasing unemployment, voters often ascribe greater importance to the issue of unemployment. A party in power that retains ownership of this issue can therefore see its popularity rise rather than fall, or at least receive a milder voter punishment for the economic crisis.

"Similarly, in prosperous times, the party owning the issue of unemployment may not reap any reward, as that issue tends to disappear from the agenda. This can deprive the party in power of one of its strongest arguments to the electorate. These effects, however, can sometimes cancel out each other, so that economic fluctuations may actually seem to lack any significant effects on voter support of a party," says Johan Martinsson.

Economic cycles and trends
The aim of the dissertation is to increase our understanding of how economic changes affect the support for various political parties and governments. In contrast to previous studies, this dissertation indicates that the Swedish population is well aware of economic cycles and trends. The voters are far from ignorant about changes in the economy. Johan Martinsson has analysed a large body of statistics and surveys in order to reach his conclusions. The dissertation is based in part on Swedish polls, the annual surveys of the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg, and the quarterly surveys of the National Institute for Economic Research.

The dissertation demonstrates that the Social Democratic Party normally owns the issue of unemployment in Sweden. The right wing party (Moderaterna), however, managed to take over the issue in the 2006 election, which they won. What is less known is that the Social Democratic Party had actually lost ownership in 1998, in any case temporarily, and that the events leading up to this began soon after that party regained power in 1994.

"It will be exciting to observe during the run-up to the 2010 election the extent to which the right wing party will succeed in retaining ownership of the unemployment issue. If they succeed in this, my study would indicate that they will avoid voter punishment for the economic crisis. However, if they fail to communicate to voters that they are giving this issue their highest priority, and are the party most able to fight unemployment, they may well be punished severely, as this issue will almost certainly be very high on the agenda.

Title of the dissertation: Economic Voting and Issue Ownership. An Integrative Approach

Link to thesis:
The thesis was successfully defended on May 29, 2009.
Opponent: Wouter van der Brug, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Helena Aaberg | idw
Further information:

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