Euphoria and Retrospective Voting

Posted: 18 May 2009

See all articles by Andrew Healy

Andrew Healy

Loyola Marymount University

Neil A. Malhotra

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Cecilia Hyunjung Mo

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: May 12, 2009


The extant literature generally presumes that voters who engage in retrospective voting are evaluating incumbents based upon their performance in office. Indeed, the empirical relationship between the health of the economy and incumbent reelection prospects is well documented. However, another explanation for this relationship is that voters are inclined to support the status quo when they feel personally satisfied or happy. We leverage a natural experiment to explore whether personal happiness unrelated to incumbent performance affects voting behavior: the outcome of the local college football team’s games right before Election Day, an event that government has nothing to do with and for which no government response could possibly be expected. We collected football scores from 1964-2006, as well as county-level election returns for presidential, gubernatorial, and senatorial elections. On average, a pre-election win causes the incumbent to receive about one percentage point more of the vote, with the effect being larger for teams with stronger fan support. We corroborate these aggregate-level results using a survey conducted during the 2009 NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament. Voters' decisions depend significantly on events that affect their personal level of happiness even when those events are disconnected from government activity, a fact that has important implications for our conception of political accountability in democratic societies.

Suggested Citation

Healy, Andrew J. and Malhotra, Neil A. and Mo, Cecilia Hyunjung, Euphoria and Retrospective Voting (May 12, 2009). Available at SSRN:

Andrew J. Healy

Loyola Marymount University ( email )

7900 Loyola Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045-8350
United States

Neil A. Malhotra (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Cecilia Hyunjung Mo

University of California, Berkeley

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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