The 2008 presidential election was a historic election. The choice between the first female vice-president and the first African American president was almost overshadowed by what was seen as the worst economy since the Great Depression. Universities across the nation were facing budget cuts and the possibility of reduced attendance and a negative attitude about the economy prevailed. The purpose of this study is to examine if the 2008 election had an effect on the college students perception of the economy.
One of the known factors that influence an election is the state of the economy. Erikson and Wlezien conducted a study on leading economic indicators (LEI) and how they could effectively predict the presidential vote (2008). They examined the correlations between the LEI and the vote from 1952-2004. They concluded that voters mood responded to economic changes as well as other factors (Erikson & Wlezien, 2008). This meant that a voter’s desires for economic change could influence the vote they cast.
Nofsinger investigated whether presidential elections could predict the stock market or if the reverse were true (2007). In this study, they reviewed stock returns from 1802-1987 for statistical analysis and examined the correlations between the stock market’s performance and presidential election outcomes. They found support for the social mood theory that public opinion is reflected in the stock market, and that mood could then be misattributed to the incumbent party. Therefore a strong stock market resulted in the incumbent party remaining in the executive office and the opposite held true during bad market years (Nofsinger, 2007). What meaning does this have once an election is over?
Berlemann and Markwardt took a step in examining this question when they examined post-election economic activity (2007). They found that the economy exhibited unemployment and inflation as a consequence of unexpected election results. They looked at results from elections of several countries over the last half-century and found that the expectations formed when a particular candidate is supposed to win changed to economic disorganization when people are unsure how to react to an unexpected economic policy (Berlemann & Markwardt, 2007). This meant that presidential election results could have consequences for the economy.
Putting these together, it can be said that public opinion of an economy may influence election outcomes, after which that outcome could have an effect on the economy. I believe research has missed a critical step; how does an election affect the economic perceptions of people post-election?
The purpose of this research was to find if the 2008 election had effects on the economic perceptions of people. I believe it likely that if economic perceptions can ultimately influence the election, then the reverse may also be true. To that end, we looked at university students and administered a survey both pre- and post-election. Comparison of the pre-election and post-election data should show a difference in economic perceptions of the university students post-election.
We studied 128 USC Upstate students in the pre-election survey. Ages of participants ranged from 17-38. Gender was divided into 100 females and 28 males. Of the participants, 75 were Caucasian, 43 African-American, and 9 who were either other races or “declined to state”. We studied 102 of the same students in the post-election survey. Of participants, 80 were female, 21 males, and of these 59 were Caucasian, 35 African-American, and 6 who were either other races or “declined to state”. Party identification was as follows: 38 Republican, 42 Democrat, and 22 identified with other parties. Data from anyone who did not participate in both surveys was discarded.
Materials and Procedure
A seven question survey was created to gauge perception of the economy (See appendix A). It was scored on a Likert scale from very negative (1) to very positive (5). The pre-election survey was given on the Monday one week prior to the elections. In order to be assured of an adequate sample size, permission was obtained to use the students in five classes. A similar post-election survey was then administered to participants the Monday following the election that requested the name of the candidate for whom their ballot was cast. Students were asked to sign a sheet in each class after completion of the survey pre-election and again post-election. Data from students who did not participate on both days was discarded.
The means collected from each question pre-election were compared to the post-election means and examined for interactions with demographic data collected. Looking at the seven questions in order, we found that in Q1 the main effect of time on present economic perception was significant, t(103)=-4.174, pThere remained a threat to external validity. The sample used was limited to college students, the vast majority of which were 18-20. Therefore I am unable to state that this is generalizable to the populace at large. Therefore I made this study specific to the University population.
I would suggest the next step would be to reconstruct this experiment using a sample representative of the US population and to repeat this over the next few election cycles. This could reveal some important information in how perceptions can influence the facets of our lives, both everyday and momentous. Perhaps if results continue to hold true for the general population, some research can go into methods of creating economic improvements by altering how the people view the economy.
Berlemann, M. & Markwardt, G. (2007). Unemployment and inflation consequences of unexpected election results. Journal of Money, Credit and Banking , 39, 1920-1945.
Erikson, R. S. & Wlezien, C. (2008). The economy and the presidential vote: What leading economic indicators reveal well in advance. International Journal of Forecasting, 24, 218-226.
Nofsinger, J. R. (2007). Social mood: The stock market and political cycles. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 36, 734-744.