Economic Growth and Political Support
For a political regime to be legitimate and stable, it must achieve certain goals; one of the most important of these is economic growth. Other things being equal, a government that presides over economic prosperity will be seen as deserving to remain in power, whereas one that presides over economic stagnation will not. In fact, political rulers were held responsible for economic conditions long before they had much knowledge or ability to manage their economies. U.S. presidents such as Martin Van Buren and Grover Cleveland were defeated for reelection largely because of economic recessions over which their governments had little control. Since the Great Depression and the development of theories of macroeconomic policy, governments have been held even more accountable for ensuring economic prosperity.
In a political system with competitive elections, a period of slow economic growth and high unemployment will weaken the electoral strength of the party in power, and a recession will often lead to its defeat at the polls. 1 For example, George Bush's defeat in 1992 probably owed much to slow economic growth. Even in a political system without competitive elections, poor economic growth will tend to weaken the legitimacy and hence the stability of the regime. Of course, the political legitimacy of a regime may be so strong that it can withstand a relatively long period of economic failure, but it is also true that prolonged economic failure will gradually erode the legitimacy of any regime. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is stark testimony to that fact. Since Communist and other authoritarian regimes are not legitimated on the basis of the will of the people as manifested in elections, but on the basis of what they achieve for their people, they are particularly susceptible to being judged on grounds of social and economic effectiveness. 2 Therefore, a long period of inadequate socioeconomic performance can