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You’ve Got Some Explaining To Do The Influence of Economic Conditions and Spatial Competition on Party Strategy*

  • Laron K. Williams, Katsunori Seki and Guy D. Whitten


Although a voluminous literature has shed light on the relationship between economic conditions and government accountability, most studies in this literature have implicitly assumed that the actions of competing political parties are either irrelevant or that they cancel each other out. In this paper, we take an important first step toward relaxing this strong assumption. We develop and test a set of theoretical propositions from the issue competition literature about the amount of emphasis that parties place on the economy during election campaigns. We test these propositions with an estimation technique that properly situates the motivations of rival elites within the context of spatial party competition using a spatial autoregressive model. On a sample of 22 advanced democracies from 1957 to 2006, we find strong support for the proposition that parties with a greater role in economic policymaking respond to worsening economic conditions by increasing their emphasis on the economy during election campaigns. We also find strong evidence of spatial contagion effects as parties respond positively to the campaign strategies of ideologically proximate parties. This finding reveals a fundamental link in the chain of economic accountability and has important implications for the study of party competition.



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Laron K. Williams, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Missouri, 103 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211-6030 ( Katsunori Seki, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, L13, 15-17 - Room 416, 68131 Mannheim, Germany ( and Guy D. Whitten (, Professor, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, 2010 Allen Building, 4348 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4348. Previous versions of this project were presented at the “Spatial Models of Politics in Europe and Beyond” Conference at the Texas A&M University in 2013 and the “Mathematical Modeling of Political Behavior” Conference at the University of Buffalo in 2013. The authors thank those participants for their extremely helpful comments. In particular, the authors are indebted to Phil Arena, Tim Hellwig, Harvey Palmer, and Randy Stevenson. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



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