The objective of this study is to assess and compare the relative impact of issues and the economy on the vote in democratic elections. There is a rich and vast literature dealing with issue voting and an equally impressive literature concerning economic voting. For the most part, however, these amount to two separate streams of research. Relatively little attention has been paid to where these literatures overlap and less still to the simple but basic question: which matters most, the issues or the economy?
The main debate in the issue voting literature recently has been between the directional and proximity models. That debate, engaging both technical and conceptual issues, has focused entirely on how issues play in an election, whether voters prefer the party that is closest to their own position or the party that is the strongest defender of their side on an issue. The question of how much issues affect the vote, however, has been neglected. Indeed, both the proximity and directional schools implicitly agree that issues matter, and so challenge the Michigan school's strong scepticism on the import of issues. Given that the difference between the two models is often quite small, a more fruitful line of investigation might be to return to the equally fundamental ‘how much’ question.