Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 5 > Issue 2

Random Events, Economic Losses, and Retrospective Voting: Implications for Democratic Competence

Andrew Healy, Assistant Professor of Economics, Loyola Marymount University, USA, ahealy@lmu.edu , Neil Malhotra, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA, namalhotra@gmail.com
Suggested Citation
Andrew Healy and Neil Malhotra (2010), "Random Events, Economic Losses, and Retrospective Voting: Implications for Democratic Competence", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 5: No. 2, pp 193-208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00009057

Publication Date: 11 Aug 2010
© 2010 A. Healy and N. Malhotra
Voting behavior,  Political psychology,  Public opinion


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In this article:
Data and Empirical Strategy 
The Effects of Tornado Damage on Presidential Elections 
Implications for Democratic Competence 


We leverage the natural experiment afforded by tornado incidence to estimate the effect of exogenous economic loss on electoral outcomes. We find that voters punish the incumbent party in presidential elections for economic damage resulting from tornadoes. Although this behavior could suggest that retrospective voting in this domain reflects voters irrationally blaming incumbent politicians for circumstances beyond their control, we instead find evidence suggesting that voting behavior reflects democratic competence. First, voters do not punish the incumbent party for tornado-caused deaths, which governments likely do not have the power to address with effective policy. Second, the incumbent party only appears to lose votes when no disaster declaration takes place in response to the tornado. Thus, voters appear to be rewarding and punishing government with respect to its performance in handling the disaster, as opposed to blaming the government for these natural events.