Party Identification, Ideology, and Economic Optimism

By Will Bordash ’18 and Brayden Zimmerman ’20

Two weeks ago we showed that there is an interesting and significant relationship between locality and economic optimism, and that people of younger generations tend to be more economically optimistic than their elders.  Here, we will study the relationships between economic optimism, and party identification and ideology.

Numerous scholarly studies discuss economic evaluations and their partisan nature. Scholars have consistently found that partisans tend to evaluate the economy more positively when the president of their party is in office, and more negatively when the opposing party is in office (e.g., Bartels 2000, 2002, 2006; Evans and Andersen 2006; Gerber, A. S. and Huber, G. A. 2010). Discussions of economic optimism on a personal level and partisanship (and ideology), though, has received much less attention. We hope to shed light on this issue in the following report.

We begin by inspecting economic optimism based on party identification. We define being economically optimistic as expecting an income increase in the next 5 years, neutral as expecting the same income in 5 years, and pessimistic as expecting an income decrease in the next 5 years. As the following figures show, we find no major difference in economic optimism between self-identified Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. 

Figure 1- Economic Optimism and Party ID:

The graphs below focus specifically on those who are optimistic. Similar to our last report, “Economic Optimism: Does Age or Locality Have an Influence?” we code those expecting an income increase in the next 5 years as a “1” and those who are not as a “0”. To calculate mean optimism, each category was summed, and then divided by the total number of observations. Similar to the figure above, we find that there is no significant difference in economic optimism between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

Figure 2- Mean Optimism and Party ID:

Interestingly, though, when looking at ideology, we find that conservatives are less likely to be optimistic than liberals. Although the level of pessimism is almost identical between those who are very conservative and very liberal,  those who are very liberal are much more likely to be optimistic. Also interesting is that moderates were the most pessimistic. 

Figure 3- Economic Optimism and Ideology:

The graph below looks at ideology but again targets only those who are optimistic.

Figure 4- Mean Optimism and Ideology:

We see that conservatives are significantly less likely to be optimistic than those who are very liberal, liberal, and unsure of their ideology. Interestingly, conservatives are also much less likely to be optimistic than those who are very conservative. These are very interesting findings that could potentially help explain the results of the 2016 Presidential Election (see the upcoming report). 

In this report, we learned that while economic optimism and party identification seem to have no relationship, economic optimism and ideology definitely do. While moderates were the most pessimistic, conservatives were the least optimistic and liberals were the most optimistic. In the next report, we will look at Economic Optimism and the 2016 Presidential Election.


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