What Matters to Voters? Examining Micro-Level and Macro-Level Drivers of Citizens' Economic and Political Evaluations

James Bisbee (Princeton University) and Jan Zilinsky (New York University)

Abstract: Voters form beliefs about the economy and politics on the basis of a potentially rich information set including experiences with own outcomes, contextual data, and political cues from the media and elites. Using Gallup polls with 3.5 million respondents between 2008 and 2018, we investigate whether place-based social outcomes influence subjective beliefs. Estimating models with distinct spatial units, we test whether proximity of place-based outcomes is necessary for detecting their influence on a broad range of beliefs. Non-parametric machine learning methods suggest that information from smaller geographic units is often, but not always, superior. Quantifying the influence of local economic, health, and safety outcomes on subjective evaluations of the economy, own finances, own well-being, and approval of political figures, we show that while some beliefs are driven largely by politics, other assessments---for example of own finances and standards of living---are influenced by people's own situation and also the objective state of their community.

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