How important is ‘issue voting’ in the US?

De-aligned voters are more likely to vote for candidates because of their views on specific issues, particularly in the age of single-issue politics, with economic issues usually being the most significant. Policies can be an important determinant of voting. Which policies they are tends to vary from one election cycle to another.

The state of the economy can be critical. Bush’s breaking of his 1988 ‘No New Taxes’ pledge was central to his defeat in 1992. ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ became the Clinton campaign catchphrase. In that election 82% of those who thought the economy was in good shape voted for Bush, while 65% of those who thought the economy was in bad shape voted for Clinton; the only problem for Bush was that the latter group was twice as big as the former group. This suggests that issue voting was what swung the election in favour of Clinton in 1992, making it a very significant factor.

Election issues change, and in 2004 it was said not to be ‘the economy, stupid’ but moral values that were the uppermost when issues such as abortion and gay marriage were used to energise the base of the Republican Party to vote. Although moral issues have been important in influencing voters, there is evidence of a backlash against religious right values and they may now be vote-losers rather than winners. This seemed the case in 2008, when a severe economic crisis linked to the Republicans reduced prominence for moral issues in the campaign and a widespread sense of among the electorate that it was ‘time for change’ helped to explain Obama’s win and McCain’s loss. This illustrates the importance of issue voting in USA elections.

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