Research/External Support

Income Inequality Correlates to Increased Votes for Left-Wing Incumbents Since Great Recession

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Florence Bouvet

New research from Sonoma State University Economics Professor Florence Bouvet shows that since the Great Recession of 2008, increase in income inequality has been associated with stronger support for Democratic and other left-leaning incumbent parties.

In her study, published in the March edition of the Electoral Studies Journal, Bouvet analyzes the correlation between income inequality and voting habits. Bouvet analyzed elections in North America, Europe, East Asia and New Zealand between 1975 and 2013 and examines how the Great Recession impacted voting habits in countries with developed economies that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“The severe economic and financial crisis might have been a ‘wake-up’ call for voters that equate rising income inequality with the other social-ills of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’,” says the study. “The recent success of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 U.S. presidential election provides another illustration that many voters in the United States have become more sensitive to issues of unequal income and opportunities and are looking for a remedy to these problems on the very left-side of the political spectrum.”

This bucks the trend of voting in times of income inequality. The study found little evidence that income inequality mattered to voters prior to the Great Recession. “If anything, a rise in inequality was then not hurting incumbent parties, as it was more likely perceived under a positive light as incentives,” says the study.

It suggests that growing media coverage on inequality, especially after the bank bailouts, may have factored in to the results. Also, because the impact of the Great Recession is larger than previous economic downturns, “Voters are willing to tolerate higher government spending if it is to improve unemployment or income distribution.”

Related links:
Bouvet’s study: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379415002097