In the wake of the great recession, have voters demand stronger government protections to keep from going under? Not really. Support for government policies trying to reduce economic pain actually dropped from 2008 to 2010. Political scientists tend to think voters are smart about one key issue—their own economic needs—but Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza suspect other social effects may be behind some odd voter behavior.

In their recent American Sociological Review article, the authors use new data from the General Social Survey to argue that it wasn’t economic interests, but partisanship most significantly affected public opinion during the recession. According to the authors:

Attitudes of the U.S. public as a whole moved toward lower levels of government support, but not because all citizens experienced the same trends and reasoned in the same way. Instead, individuals who more strongly identified with the Republican Party moved away from government faster than Democratic Party identifiers moved toward government.

While voters may respond to the current economic situation, they clearly don’t agree on what that reality means. Instead, belonging to political parties has trained them to see the world through different lenses. Those on the left seem to believe government should provide direct help to struggling citizens, while those on the right seem to think less government involvement in the private sector will spur development and improve the economy for anyone with the will to rise to the top.


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