Noisy Retrospection: The Effect of Party Control on Policy Outcomes

Noisy Retrospection: The Effect of Party Control on Policy Outcomes

By Adam M. Dynes, Brigham Young University and John B. Holbein, University of Virginia

Retrospective voting is vital for democracy. But, are the objective performance metrics widely thought to be relevant for retrospection—such as the performance of the economy, criminal justice system, and schools, to name a few—valid criteria for evaluating government performance? That is, do political coalitions actually have the power to influence the performance metrics used for retrospection on the timeline introduced by elections? Using difference-in-difference and regression discontinuity techniques, we find that US states governed by Democrats and those by Republicans perform equally well on economic, education, crime, family, social, environmental, and health outcomes on the timeline introduced by elections (2–4 years downstream). Our results suggest that voters may struggle to truly hold government coalitions accountable, as objective performance metrics appear to be largely out of the immediate control of political coalitions.

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