Economy

As the Economy Goes, So Goes the Vote

by Frank Newport

View of economy strong predictor of vote

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup analysis of more than 40,000 interviews conducted over the last month and a half shows a strong correlation between trends in voters' candidate preferences in the election and consumer views of the U.S. economy. Barack Obama's margin of support over John McCain has risen proportionately when the percentage of Americans who are negative about the U.S. economy increases. Obama's front-runner margin has fallen when economic negativity decreases.

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As is seen in the accompanying graph, the relative rise or fall in the Obama-McCain margin generally tracks the ups and downs in Americans' views of the economy. In particular, as Americans became more negative about the economy coincident with the onset of the Wall Street crisis in mid-September, Obama gained against McCain. Then, beginning around Oct. 13, Americans became somewhat less negative about the economy, and McCain gained back some lost ground. By the end of that week, as the stock market lost much of what it had gained earlier in the week, economic negativity began to rise again, and McCain's relative support dropped.

This relationship is ecological, in the sense that it is based on the relationship between two aggregate-level population-level measurements. But when data for October are put together into one large data set and examined cross-sectionally at the individual level, the relationship between the two variables becomes very clear. Americans who see the economy as negative are much more likely to say they would vote for Obama than are those who see it as either mixed or positive.

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In the Gallup Poll tracking survey, the vote-choice questions are asked first. It is only later in the survey that respondents are asked for their views about the economy. Thus, respondents are not "primed" to think about the economy when indicating their vote choice in the survey context.

These data suggest that one of McCain's best hopes of improving his positioning against Obama in the remaining two weeks of the presidential campaign would be for a sharp drop to take place in the percentage of Americans holding negative views of the U.S. economy. Although McCain has been roundly castigated by his opponent for his September comment that the "fundamentals" of the U.S. economy are strong, these data would suggest that the statement was not necessarily an illogical effort on McCain's part, for it appears that if Americans come to believe things are not as bleak as they may seem, he gains.

Survey Methods

Presidential election results are based on telephone interviews with 43,217 registered voters, aged 18 and older, interviewed in September and October 2008. For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points. Economic outlook results are based on telephone interviews with 23,867 adults, aged 18 and older, interviewed in October 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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