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U.S. Presidential Elections in the Nineteenth Century: Why Culture and the Economy Both Mattered

G. Patrick Lynch
Polity
Vol. 35, No. 1 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 29-50
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235469
Page Count: 22
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U.S. Presidential Elections in the Nineteenth Century: Why Culture and the Economy Both Mattered
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Abstract

Most political scientists have studied the impact of economic conditions on U.S. presidential elections after World War II and argued that the economy matters in these elections because government has some "control" over the economy. Since government authority over the economy grew substantially between 1932 and 1946, political scientists have focused their attention on the elections in the post World War II era. This growth in government authority then gives voters a link between government action and macroeconomic performance. However, a growing number of political scientists have shown that economic conditions also influenced elections in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-well before the growth in government authority between 1932 and 1946. In this paper I discuss why economic conditions also affected presidential elections in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that government economic policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did affect important blocs of voters-specifically farmers and industrial workers-albeit in different ways than government policy affects voters today. This gave voters a way to link economic performance with government policies. I also show that politicians regularly campaigned on the state of the economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Newspaper coverage of the 1884 campaign suggests that economic conditions and issues were regularly used as campaign ammunition by both Democrats and Republicans.

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