Economic Voting in Big-City U.S. Mayoral Elections

44 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2015

See all articles by Daniel J. Hopkins

Daniel J. Hopkins

University of Pennsylvania

Lindsay Pettingill

Georgetown University - Department of Government

Date Written: February 19, 2015


Retrospective voting is a central explanation for voters' support of incumbents. Yet despite the variety of conditions facing American cities, past research has devoted little attention to retrospective voting for mayors. Local economic conditions are widely reported, making them one likely source of retrospective voting. To test that possibility, we turn to the largest data set to date on big-city mayoral elections between 1990 and 2011. Neither crime rates nor property values consistently influence incumbent mayors' vote shares, nor do changes in local conditions. However, low city-level unemployment relative to national unemployment correlates with higher incumbent support. The urban voter is a particular type of retrospective voter, one who compares local economic performance to conditions elsewhere. Moreover, these effects are present only in cities that dominate their media markets. At a time when the audiences for local media are declining, this research suggests that those outlets play a critical role in facilitating retrospective voting.

Keywords: mayoral elections, economic voting, retrospective voting, news media

Suggested Citation

Hopkins, Daniel J. and Pettingill, Lindsay, Economic Voting in Big-City U.S. Mayoral Elections (February 19, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Hopkins (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States


Lindsay Pettingill

Georgetown University - Department of Government ( email )

United States

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