In a forthcoming article I coauthored with economists Bryan Caplan, Eric Crampton, and Wayne Grove, we find that voters routinely make major mistakes in attributing responsibility for a variety of policy outcomes to different branches and levels of government. This undermines voters’ ability to properly reward and punish political incumbents for their performance. The article will be published in PS: Political Science and Politics, and a draft is now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Many scholars argue that “retrospective voting” is a powerful information shortcut that offsets widespread voter ignorance. Even relatively ignorant voters, it is claimed, can punish incumbents for bad performance and reward them if things go well. But if voters’ understanding of which officials are responsible for which issues is systematically biased, retrospective voting becomes an independent source of political failure rather than a cure for it. We designed and administered a new survey of the general public and political experts to test for such biases. Our analysis reveals frequent, large, robust biases in voter attributions of responsibility for a wide array of political actors and outcomes, with an overarching tendency for the public to overestimate influence, though there are also important examples of underestimation.