Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Political Perceptions in the Obama Era: Diverse Opinions of the Great Recession and Its Aftermath among Whites, Latinos, and Blacks

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Political Perceptions in the Obama Era: Diverse Opinions of the Great Recession and Its Aftermath among Whites, Latinos, and Blacks

Article excerpt

Introduction

In Public Opinion and American Democracy, Key (1961, 14) emphasizes that public opinion includes "opinions held by private persons which governments find prudent to heed." Nowhere is this principle of democratic gover- nance more relevant than citizens' views about the econ- omy. Indeed, the state of the economy is a topic that Americans list among the nation's "most important issues" and a subject people closely follow in the news (Pew Research Center 2012a, 2012c). Moreover, election forecasting models generally include measures of eco- nomic performance among factors that predict voting outcomes.1 And sentiments about the country's fiscal health figure prominently in assessments of elected offi- cials, perceptions of political and financial institutions, and beliefs about how the government functions as a steward of the economy (Bloom and Price 1975; Duch, Palmer, and Anderson 2000; Harris-Lacewell and Albertson 2005; Hibbs 1979; Kramer 1971; Markus 1988; Monroe 1978; Rudolph 2003; Tufte 1978).

As one might expect, peoples' economic perceptions are partly influenced by their partisan preferences. Democrats, for example, provide more favorable assess- ments of the economy when their party holds political power (Duch, Palmer, and Anderson 2000; Margalit 2013; Markus 1988). But we know much less about the foundations of economic opinions that derive from individual's ethno-racial group ties or their perceptions of how various communities are harmed or benefit during periods of economic decline. The present work builds upon research on economic evaluations by providing a theoretical account of the ethno-racial bases of citizens' attitudes beyond partisanship preferences. Although pub- lic opinion studies have explored divisions in social pol- icy preferences and beliefs about government spending among whites and blacks (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Smith and Seltzer 2000) analyses of economic appraisals often neglect the racial and ethnic group dimensions of these evaluations.2 But given the increasingly diverse makeup of the U.S. electorate, a more nuanced account of economic judgments is warranted in political science scholarship. Indeed, whites, Latinos, and African Americans often draw upon different considerations when making political evaluations (Abrajano and Alvarez 2010; Dawson 1994; Kinder and Sanders 1996; McKenzie 2008, 2011; Smith and Seltzer 2000; Tate 1994; Walton 1985). To better understand how these processes operate, I ask if voters' perceptions of their personal financial situ- ation, their attributions of blame for the state of the econ- omy, and overall political outlook for the future are a function of objective criteria about the economy or more subjective, racial group-based rationales. In addition, this discussion is placed within the broader context of citizens attitudes about the political status of marginalized groups in society and opinions about economic inequality in America.

An ideal setting to investigate these issues is in the wake of the recent Great Recession. Analysts agree that this deep recession (December 2007-June 2009) and slow recovery period (2009-2011) represent the most crippling economic contraction to hit the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s (Barro 2011; Bernanke 2013; Grusky, Western, and Wimer 2011; Krugman 2012; Stiglitz 2009). Thus, these events could have enormous influence on the economic views of various segments of the population and how they perceive America's prospects for success moving forward. Although a few studies discuss the economic and social implications of the Great Recession (Grusky, Western, and Wimer 2011; Seefeldt and Graham 2013), its political consequences have received less attention from researchers. Yet, the political lessons from this drastic slowdown and sluggish recovery may be con- siderable for students of American and minority group politics.

I am especially interested in examining how con- cerns about one's economic standing and attributions of blame for economic conditions diverge among the nation's three largest racial and ethnic groups. …

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