There are a multitude of factors that dictate how someone votes in an election, and for a large share of individuals, whether they even vote at all. Political Science has a long history of attempting to define which characteristics influence the electorate to vote for a particular party; sometimes for academic purposes, but in the election industry, these defining characteristics are very valuable information.

There are internal factors and external factors that decide an individual’s vote. Internal factors are characteristics inherent to the person that increases their predisposition to vote for a particular political party, e.g. race, sex, or age. External factors are things that occur out in society that influence an individual’s political leanings, e.g. the salience of a social issue at the time of the election, economic growth or shrinkage, or the response of an administration to a national security threat. The effects of these events on the electorate are more difficult to quantify, but that is the aim of this paper, at least for one specific type of external factor: economic growth.

Do voters hold government officials, more specifically executives, accountable to economic performance during their tenure? What about the party of the executive; do voters punish the political party of the executive when economic performance is poor and reward it when it exceeds expectations? At first the answer seems like an obvious one. In fact, if there were any factor that did dictate the electorate’s vote, it would seem that most would say economic performance was it. But, the interesting part of this lies in the specifics, and implications of the question. If it is found that economic performance has little to no bearing on the electorate’s aggregate vote for the political party that is in power at the executive level, then this would indicate that voters do not make their decision in the context of political parties. Perhaps it would mean that they place more emphasis on the personal characteristics of the candidate. Alternatively, it could indicate that the partisan divide is so strong that voters, on the aggregate level, vote on party lines despite how good or bad the perceived economic leadership of the president or governor is during their tenure. And lastly, it could even indicate that campaigns are so effective at pushing a specific narrative that voters forget the reality of economic conditions.

But what results do you get when you examine the relationship between state economic conditions and presidential vote share? Do voters hold the president’s party accountable, and furthermore do they hold the president’s party accountable for state economic conditions that are outside of the national government’s control? In this paper we will discover whether or not a relationship exists, and determine whether or not accountability stays in its appropriate sphere. Building on this as well, we can make some determinations of other factors that affect presidential and gubernatorial success in elections.


            Nearly every publication in political science regarding this subject looks at election results through the lens of two different voting behavior models. The first is the national referendum model, which “suggests that voters in subpresidential elections express their approval or disapproval of the sitting president and his policies with their vote.” The other model is the economic voting hypothesis, which “suggests that voters in these elections express support or dissent for the performance of the incumbent based upon how well the economy is doing,” (Atkeson and Partin, 1995). At its core, this last model indicates that voters who are financially better off than they were before the candidate took office will reward the incumbent, and conversely will punish them if that does not hold true. The economic voting hypothesis is what we are primarily taking a look at here, with a couple of variables that would shed some meaningful light on the applicability of the national referendum model in the gubernatorial analysis.

Institutions, The Economy, and the Dynamics of State Elections takes a deep look into the aforementioned topic at the state legislative and gubernatorial levels (Chubb, 1984). Chubb considers the relative effects of presidential coattails, the common backlash against the party of the president during mid-term elections, and state and national economic conditions. He believes that “. . . when it comes to assigning responsibility for economic performance, state voters have generally and increasingly looked outside of the state to the national economy and the president’s imputed performance in managing it,” thus a poorly performing national economy would influence the outcome of a state election, despite a state’s hypothetical independently strong economic performance. The analysis of this paper has shown Chubb’s claim to be inconsistent with voting behavior in the last two decades, but perhaps there has been a genuine change in behavior between the time period he analyzed and now. Lastly, Chubb says that at the state level, “the factors that account for variations in normal partisan voting across the states include idiosyncrasies of culture and history that subvert general explanations,” which corroborates the findings of the analysis here. Gubernatorial electoral outcomes are the product of far more variables than presidential electoral outcomes.

James King, of the University of Wyoming, in 2001 performed a similar analysis in his publication titled Incumbent Popularity and Vote Choice in Gubernatorial Elections. Studying gubernatorial elections in four states, his results found that “. . . voters use the ballot for governor to express approval or disapproval of current economic conditions and the president’s job performance, or as an easy means of evaluating candidates.” This would square with Chubb’s publication that retrospective economic voting is a reality, and that voters hold the governor accountable to state economic performance.

Atkeson and Partin, in Economic and Referendum Voting: A Comparison of Gubernatorial and Senatorial Elections come to similar conclusions. They find that “. . . governors, as chief executives of their respective states, are held responsible for the health of their state economies and are not generally shown to be liable for fluctuations in presidential approval.” This further affirms the existence of economic retrospective voting at the gubernatorial level. Atkeson and Partin also “. . . find something of an in-party incumbency effect whereby incumbent governors of the president’s party suffer more from a perceived worsening of state economic conditions than incumbents of the out party,” and finally they claim, “. . . governors . . . escape from these national-level evaluations of presidential performance and are instead held liable for state economic conditions.” This would suggest that national economic performance has no bearing on governors, regardless of political affiliation.

In a very interesting article written by Robert M. Stein in 1990, the argument is made that economic conditions affect presidential vote share, but not gubernatorial, saying “. . . state and local incumbents are less likely to be affected by voters’ retrospective economic evaluations than their national counterparts.” Stein’s usage of the word “incumbents” would indicate that voters do not punish or reward the incumbent party when an incumbent is term limited and the election is open-seat. Stein’s findings do confirm his aforementioned hypothesis, and he goes on to state that “Voters hold their governor neither responsible nor accountable for the state’s economic conditions and their voting behavior reflects this perception . . . This evidence of economic voting for governor, however, varies with the partisan affiliation of the incumbent candidate,” thus when economic effects do matter in an election, voters will punish or reward each party by different amounts for the same economic performance. Stein’s research shows that voters differentiate between the impact state and federal policies can have on their personal finances, wrapping up his article by saying that “voters recognize that their personal financial condition is more closely tied to federal policies and actions than to the state’s,” (Stein, 1990).

A different approach to testing the executive economic accountability theory is taken by David Samuels and Timothy Hellwig. They cited the controversy of trying to define the dependent variable in the accountability model; whether to measure accountability as number of seats in a legislature swings in vote share of an incumbent, or in its most stringent sense, partisan control of the office in question. They found that accountability can be observed when measuring it as seats in a legislature or vote share of an incumbent, saying “When we conceive accountability in terms of sensitivity of swings in incumbent vote shares . . . and when we use seats as the dependent variable, we find that incumbent performance is sensitive to economic performance.” However, when measuring accountability as partisan control of the office, the results were inconclusive, saying “. . . when we conceive of accountability as partisan control over government . . . our findings temper Cheibub and Przeworski’s (1999) pessimism.” The authors ultimate conclude that “citizen control of politicians is . . . imperfect because particular political contexts limit voters’ ability to hold incumbents to account by obscuring responsibility for economic performance,” (Samuels & Timothy, 2010).

Johnson and Ryu look to other countries to test these models, but with the inclusion of broken campaign promises in the analysis. They sought to determine if economic performance, broken promises, or some combination of the two were what voters cared most about in executive elections. Their findings indicated that neither of the two factors had any substantive effect alone, but an interaction between both variables resulted in statistically significant results, going on to say that “the relationship between broken campaign promises and incumbent vote change is affected by economic conditions.” This means that regardless of economic performance, as long as no campaign promise was broken, the executive was not rewarded nor were they punished for it; and alternatively, when a campaign promise was broken, voters held the executive accountable for economic performance, likely due to increased scrutiny (Johnson & Ryu, 2007).


Data was gathered from official and private sources (deferring to official whenever possible), from the years 1987 to 2013.

The hypothesis for the state level is as follows:

 State Level H1: People vote to retain the governor, or party of the governor when he/she is term limited, when the state in question experiences strong economic growth.

State Level H2: On average, a governor will be positively affected when the governor is the same political party as the sitting president and their elections coincide.

The overall theorized model of the analysis is specified by the following regression equation:

 %VoteShareGovParty = β0 + β1 % StateGrowth + β2 % NationalGrowthSamePres – β3 %NationalGrowthOppPres + β4 PartisanControl + β5 GovIsIncumbent + β6 GovSamePartyElectionasPres + ε

The following are variable definitions:

%VoteShareGovParty: The percentage of vote share received by the party of the incumbent governor, whether the governor was running for reelection or not.

%StateGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Per Capita Real Gross State Product over the tenure of the governor.

%NationalGrowthSamePres: An interaction between a dummy variable that turns on when a governor is the same party as the president, and the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

%NationalGrowthOppPres: An interaction between a dummy variable that turns on when a governor is the opposite party as the president, and the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

PartisanControl: Serves as a baseline for the predicted vote share of a governor. This is measured by taking the average of the vote share of the Democrat Party for every gubernatorial election between 1987 and 2013, and providing that number if the incumbent party is Democrat, or 100 minus that number if the Incumbent party is Republican. The coefficient of this variable will be difficult to interpret, and is not meaningful for our sake.

GovIsIncumbent: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the governor is an incumbent.

GovSamePartyElectionasPres: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the governor is the same party as the president, and their elections fall on the same year.

Gubernatorial election results and information on gubernatorial incumbency were aggregated from Wikipedia, which has curated lists that source the data from each state’s secretary of state or equivalent. I am aware that Wikipedia is frowned on to use as a source in an academic context, but there was simply no other source that had the data in a remotely useful format. National RDGP growth, as well as state per capita RGDP growth figures were obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The rest of the variables were computed through Excel functions to prepare the dataset. Observations were discarded if the incumbent party was not Democrat or Republican, and after the completion of the dataset, there were 327 total observations being analyzed. For the regression analysis, Stata 14 was used.

The national level model is much the same, with two hypotheses as well:

National H3: People vote to retain the president, or party of the president when he is term limited, when the country as a whole experiences strong economic growth.

National H4: People vote to retain the president, or party of the president when he is term limited, when their state experiences strong economic growth.

The overall theorized model of the analysis is specified by the following regression equation:

%VoteSharePresParty = β0 + β1 % StateGrowth + β2 % NationalGrowth + β3 PartisanControl + β4 PresIsIncumbent + ε

The following are variable definitions:

%VoteSharePresParty: The percentage of vote share received by the party of the incumbent president, whether the president was running for reelection or not.

%StateGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Per Capita Real Gross State Product over the previous presidential term.

%NationalGrowth: Measured as the percentage change in Real Gross Domestic Product

PartisanControl: Serves as a baseline for the predicted vote share of a president. This is measured by taking the average of the vote share of the Democrat Party for every presidential election between 1987 and 2013 and for every state, and providing that number if the incumbent party is Democrat, or 100 minus that number if the Incumbent party is Republican. Like the gubernatorial model, the coefficient of this variable will be difficult to interpret, and is not meaningful for our sake.

PresIsIncumbent: This is a dummy variable that turns on if the president is an incumbent.

Presidential election results and incumbency information were aggregated from The American Presidency Project. National RDGP growth, as well as state per capita RGDP growth figures were obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The partisan control variable was computed through excel functions. Observations were adjusted if there was a third party candidate to exclude that impact on the results.


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After running the regression analysis on the data and ensuring that there were no omitted variables, we are presented with some very interesting results. Three different models were created for the gubernatorial level, with each subsequent model adding controls in an attempt to isolate the real effects that state GDP growth and national GDP growth have on the vote share for the political party that is in power at the executive level in state government. Though no heteroscedastic problems were foreseen, every model was controlled for heteroscedasticity by using the robust command in Stata. Refer to Table 1 for the results of all three models.

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After producing a correlation matrix, we find no possible issues with multicollinearity in the model. Notice the low correlation between the PartisanControl variable and %VoteShareGovParty. The PartisanControl variable takes historical voting averages for the Democrat Party in each state and uses that number as a baseline to predict vote share in the year in question. However, because aggregate state partisanship is much more volatile than the country as whole, and is susceptible to much quicker political ideology shift, historical voting averages are not nearly as good of a baseline at the state level as they are for the national level. In an ideal world, this correlation number would be equal to 1.000, which would allow us to perfectly predict the outcome of each election with only one piece of data, but unfortunately this is not the case. As you will soon see, the presidential model correlation between these two variables was much higher, leading to a much more accurate model.

Neither state nor national economic performance has any effect on gubernatorial vote, and we cannot accept H1. The closest either variable gets to any significance is with a p-value of 0.102, but even this is in Model 1 when the other controls are not active. This is a surprising result, and though the p-values for the state, same-party-national and different-party-national variables are 0.335, 0.995 and 0.736 respectively in the complete model, the R2 is 0.429. This means that there are other variables out there that will account for the other 57.1% of the variance in vote share for the political party in power. If those were controlled for, there is a chance that state and national economic performance could come back down into significance. However, the challenge with this is that there is no shortage of unobservable variables that have some bearing on the outcomes of elections.

To those familiar with the field of Political Science, it should come as no surprise that incumbents enjoy a tremendous advantage over their opponents. In this analysis, it was found that, when controlling for the other previously mentioned variables, simply being an incumbent gives a gubernatorial candidate a 10.646% (though we must consider the constant forces us to start below zero, at -3.343, so it’s not exactly 10.646 but rather a touch below) vote share boost; with a p-value of 0.000. This is also an underestimate, due to some states only requiring a plurality of the vote to win the governorship; e.g. some gubernatorial results in this data show a governor winning with as little as approximately 40% of the vote. These observations could have been removed, but they comprised a significant portion of the data, and incumbency advantage was not the aim of this research.

Presidential coattails were also confirmed by this analysis, for better or for worse. When a governor shared the same political party as the incumbent president and their elections coincided, the governor enjoyed a modest vote share boost; with a p-value of 0.003, allowing us to accept our H2. This could be attributed to the president running a hard fought campaign during his election year, in an attempt to increase his approval rating before Election Day; and when the incumbent president could not run for reelection, perhaps those conditions did not necessarily hurt a same-party governor either. Presidential campaign efforts, on average, apparently have a positive effect on not only his party members at the federal level but governors as well. This may no longer be the case today, but on average from 1987 to 2013, it was.

These results call into question the rationality of the votes cast in gubernatorial elections, and force us to ask ourselves, if these results are an accurate representation of reality, why voters do not hold governors and their political party accountable to state economic performance? Perhaps this is a result of state economic conditions being to some extent a product of the national economy, and also a result of state economic conditions being vaguely defined in the context of the bigger national picture. Rarely are voters exposed to economic performance data, and when they are it is highly unusual to be state data. However, even this does not square with voters not being mindful of national economic performance either. There is a chance that voters view the governor as isolated from any decisions that would affect the state economy and insulated from decisions that affect the national economy, and because of this, state and national economic conditions do not hold any bearing on their vote in gubernatorial elections.

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The presidential model produces far more predictable results. Three different models were created for the presidential level as well, with each subsequent model adding controls in an attempt to isolate the real effects that state GDP growth and national GDP growth have on the vote share for the political party that is in power at the executive level in the federal government. State economic growth is not significant in the complete model, however, and has a p-value of 0.918; preventing us from accepting H4 that hypothesizes that state growth has a positive impact on presidential vote share. Unlike the gubernatorial results that showed that state economic performance had no effect on general election outcomes, the president’s party is indeed accountable to national economic performance, with a p-value of 0.000; allowing us to accept our H3. Like the gubernatorial model, incumbency matters. Simply being an incumbent resulted in a significant vote share boost for the incumbent president.

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After producing a correlation matrix, we find no possible issues with multicollinearity in the model. The PartisanControl variable correlates highly with %VoteSharePresParty, 0.8909, but this is to be expected. In these models we are using voting averages for the Democrat Party in years past to estimate current Democrat vote share. What this means is that we seek a high correlation with the PartisanControl variable, and if it were not correlated highly this would mean that partisan trends and a state’s propensity to vote more for a specific political party were non-existent. We know this is false.

Perhaps most interesting is the performance of the included quadratic national GDP growth variable. The inclusion of this variable is only due to the very high level of significance it attained, and it admittedly makes little theoretical sense within the context of the model. Because OLS has estimated a negative coefficient, this indicates that GDP growth has a diminishing effect with respect to vote share of the incumbent party of the president, to the extent that at a certain point, higher growth actually reduces it. Theoretically, voters are eager to kick out the party in leadership when there is very low GDP growth. Voters are eager to retain the party in leadership when there is a satisfactory amount of growth. And lastly, perhaps voters are enjoying an economic prosperity so much with very high GDP growth that they don’t care to turnout for an election and keep their favored party in power.

The performance of the presidential model squares with the economic voting hypothesis. Voters notice economic growth (or the lack thereof) and attribute this to the performance of the president. Though the president has no constitutional basis to manage the national economy, voters have given this responsibility to him.

The gubernatorial model does not square with the economic voting hypothesis. Governors are not beholden to any economic performance. However, the model does square with the national referendum hypothesis, as evident in the statistical significance of the “Governor Same Party as President” variable. Voters express their discontent or satisfaction with the sitting president by voting against or for same-party governors.


Though these results indicate that economic performance holds little significance in the context of elections in modern times, this may not have always been the case. There is a stark juxtaposition between the strong anti-federalist sentiment of the 19th century, and today’s interconnected and unified country. Voters 150 years ago placed much more emphasis on state-level government and politics, and this is just simply not the case anymore. There is a (nearly) century long trend of giving more and more state power to the national government, and I believe that in this, the significance of state level economic performance has been largely lost. However, this is not to say that this trend will continue, or that the results of this analysis will even hold true in the future. Perhaps we are yet to witness the imminent state politics renaissance, but for now, economic performance doesn’t matter for governors.

Hope you all enjoyed,



Atkeson, L. R., & Partin, R. W. (1995). Economic and Referendum Voting: A Comparison of Gubernatorial and Senatorial Elections . American Political Science Review , 89 (1), 99-107.

Chubb, J. E. (1988). Institutions, the Economy, and the Dynamics of State Elections. American Political Science Review , 82 (1), 133-154.

Johnson, G. B., & Ryu, S.-R. (2007). Campaign Promises, Economic Performance, and Electoral Accountability in Latin America . Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, (pp. 1-23). Chicago.

King, J. D. (2001). Incumbent Popularity and Vote Choice in Gubernatorial Elections. The Journal of Politics , 63 (2), 585-597.

Samuels, D., & Timothy, H. (2010). Elections and Accountability for the Economy: A Conceptual and Empirical Reassessment. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties , 20 (4), 393-419.

Stein, R. M. (1990). Economic Voting for Governor. Journal of Politics , 52 (1), 30-53.

U.S. Department of Commerce. (2015, April). Regional Data. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from Bureau of Economic Analysis:

Wikipedia. (2014, December 2). United States gubernatorial elections, 1990. Retrieved

April 15, 2015, from Wikipedia:,_1990

Woolley, J. T., & Peters, G. (2015). Presidential Elections Data. Retrieved April 1, 2015, from The American Presidency Project:

Should the Keynesian Consumption Function be Non-Linear?

To those that follow this blog, sorry for not posting anything lately. I have been busy with this project and several others.

Those familiar with the macroeconomic theory of John Maynard Keynes know that his consumption function is defined as follows:

C = a + bYD

Where C is aggregate consumption, a is autonomous consumption, b is the slope (which in effect measures how much consumption increases with a one unit change in income), and YD is income.

As one is able to see, the consumption function closely resembles the basic point-slope equation that many of us learned in middle school mathematics class, and this consumption function is completely identical in how it operates. Thus, those that have expanded their knowledge of mathematics into the Calculus realm know that the derivative of the consumption function is referred to as the slope’s rate of change. In this case, that is called the marginal propensity to consume. The marginal propensity for individuals to consume measures how much of the next dollar in income will be utilized by the owner of the dollar. Real economic factors are largely what dictates the value of the MPC, with income level and general consumer confidence being far and away the most important factors. Because there is no exponents in Keynes’ consumption function, this means that the derivative (the MPC) is simply a constant, and when graphed is a flat line. We can interpret this to be the average MPC at the aggregate level.

Why is this important? What struck me as odd is that we are accepting that the MPC is a single value for all consumers, even despite income difference, when we know that wealthier consumers spend a smaller portion of their income. This means that the MPC must be variable, which is impossible without a quadratic term (a “squared” exponent) in the original consumption function. What I have done is started with the end in mind, i.e. developed a simple equation for an MPC that could be still linear but not a constant, and integrated it back into a consumption function. The variable MPC equation looks like this:

MPC = b – 2xYD

Where b is the intercept on the Y-axis of the MPC, x is the slope, and Yd is still the original income. When we integrate it back into a new consumption function, we have this (any new constant from integration can be assumed to be lumped into a):

C = a + bYDYD2

Now that our new consumption function is quadratic, this means that our consumption function is now non-linear, thus the C curve is literally now a curve; and in a regression it could potentially better account for variance and “fit” better.

I found the economic data needed to test this at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS administers a Consumer Expenditure Survey every year, in which they survey thousands of average citizens and instruct them to list all of their expenditures and income in fine detail. They make this data available for public use and years worth of survey results are available on their website. I chose 2013 data because it was the most recent. Also it is important to note that every observation in this CE Survey data was measuring a consumer unit, i.e. a family/household.

The first step was to prepare the data set. Because many of the observations had very questionable income/expenditure values, such as negative numbers or extraordinarily high expenditures coupled with zero income, I had to create some rules for inclusion in the data set and in effect, remove outliers. After all, this experiment was to look at data for average households that have  at least someone employed that generates a steady income, thus I removed any observations that had an income under $500/month and over $35,000/month. I also removed any observations that reported expenditures of less than $750/month (as this would indicate they are far under what we accept as autonomous consumption, or the minimal amount that people must spend to have the absolute minimal level of necessities; this would make observations at this level or lower very questionable and unrealistic), and removed expenditure observations of more than $35,000/month.

After using Stata to estimate the coefficients for the new consumption function, we are presented with this:

C = 4389 + 0.332YD – 8.9e-7YD2

R2 = 0.23

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As compared to the consumption function based on Keynes’ original equation, which produces the following results:

C = 4949 + 0.2727YD

R2 = 0.228

Moving on, the new non-linear consumption function produces the following derivative/MPC equation:

MPC = 0.33218 – 17.8e-7YD

While the original consumption function produces this derivative/MPC equation:

MPC = 0.2727

With the new consumption function and MPC curve plotted on top of each other, we get the following results:

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So how can we interpret these results? The new robust and non-linear consumption function accounts for the diminishing utilization of new income across income levels. Also, it intercepts the expenditure-axis at $4389 expenditures/quarter for those hypothetically making $0 income. What this means is that autonomous consumption a, the smallest amount that people must spend to have the absolute minimal level of necessities, is estimated by this model to be $17,556/year/household. The original consumption function, because it was lacking this quadratic term, fit the data in a slightly different manner. This pushed its intercept higher, and would lead us to believe that autonomous consumption is actually $19,796/year/household. Because we are better able to estimate this now, we know that the $19,796 figure is an overestimate. Consumers are actually able to live off of $2,240 less goods and services than the original consumption function would have us believe.

Theory has a necessary confrontation with the mathematics behind the theory here, due to the R2s being essentially identical, 0.23 and 0.228. This means that both models fit the data just as good as the other, but in this case we have an important choice to make. Do we choose the linear model because of its simplicity? Or do we choose the non-linear model because it gives us a variable MPC? I will choose the latter. It is disingenuous for economic textbooks to almost universally teach students that the consumption function is a linear equation because this relegates the MPC equation to only a single constant term, and this cannot be true.



Of all the aims of government, most people can agree that individual liberty is to be one of the highest priorities. Although in contemporary politics it is largely thought to be a libertarian ideal, most people do not want intrusion into their life by a governmental agency. The problem arises when there is a legitimate need for some intrusion, whether it is monitoring communications (with the intent to protect the people from terrorism) or the imposition of regulations in the free market (with the intent to prevent the emergence of a monopoly); and whether an individual is a conservative or liberal usually dictates which they focus on, respectively. Many Americans deplore having any interaction with the government at all. We aren’t submissive people. Thus, the government is tasked with simultaneously maximizing individual liberty with the good of the public; all the while trying to maintain a benevolent image despite many programs (that are created with the good of the public in mind) being very controversial. This is a uniquely difficult balancing act because there is often a trade-off between them, i.e. the people must relinquish individual liberty in order to advance the public good. Of the various mainstream political ideologies in modern America, I do believe that progressive liberalism does a satisfactory job balancing these two concerns, primarily because of the way I personally interpret the idea of individual liberty. Additionally, I believe the amount of empathy a person has dictates whether they will be an advocate for the concept of equality of opportunity or adopt a more Darwinist approach that advocates making do with what you have. Because these theoretical questions nearly always lead to normative answers, I believe that support or disdain for the following liberal ideals comes from a very foundational place within each of us.

When deciding which political ideology satisfies this trade off best, there are two concepts that must be thoroughly understood that will guide people to their answer. The first is how you define liberty. John Stuart Mill, hundreds of years ago, first advanced what we like to think of today as a negative interpretation of liberty. Mill’s “. . . general theme was that government should leave people alone, provided they do not harm others. He held that since we do not know beyond doubt what is desirable and undesirable, people should be allowed to argue the question freely, neither government nor society imposing any restraint on speech or press,” (Van Dyke 11). In other words, the people had more liberty the more the government refrained from interacting with them. This negative idea of liberty also pervaded in the economic realm, with Adam Smith advancing the idea of laissez-faire governmental economic policy. Laissez-faire condemned regulation of the free-market, advocating total economic freedom and implying that any government action would likely be detrimental to the economy.

During the latter half of the 19th century, a newer form of liberalism emerged. T.H. Green, as well as others, began to advance the idea that the negative interpretation of liberty is not what we should attempt to achieve. Green says, “When we speak of freedom. . . we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying. . . [Freedom is] the liberation of the powers of all men equally for contributions to the common good,” (Van Dyke 19). Thus, there was a mass realignment among the people, and liberty had begun to be understood in a different way on the most fundamental of levels. The role of government was evolving. Government was now responsible to not only remove the chains of those who were at a disadvantage relative to others; it was now additionally tasked with providing a means for those people to improve their life further. If the mass creation of opportunity for the people is “public good,” which I think is a fair assumption to make; and individual liberty is to be thought of as the capacity for people to make the best of themselves, then this is the more philosophic reason that I believe progressive liberalism is effective at balancing individual liberty and public good.

The second concept that must be personally defined is whether one’s idea of liberty places emphasis more so on economic liberty or social liberty. Formally, the definition of liberty encompasses both of these; but the problem is, here again, there seems to be a trade-off. Liberal ideology seems to consistently sacrifice economic liberty for better social positioning (e.g. redistribution of wealth, regulation of industry), though this was not always the case. Classical liberals and their laissez-faire economics were strictly against economic regulation. In modern times, however, we collectively give up a great deal of money so as to support those who are worse off than ourselves: increasing their capacity to better themselves by receiving financial help. If conservatives place more emphasis on economic liberty, which I think is a fair assumption to make; and social tolerance is to be thought of as a characteristic of an advanced society (implying tolerance is for the public good), then this is one of the more tangible reasons that I believe progressive liberalism is effective at balancing individual liberty and public good.

At the root of liberalism is its emphasis on equality of opportunity. This can be defined as “what exists in the absence of arbitrary discrimination, disadvantages or handicaps for which society is responsible, and disadvantages or handicaps for which the individual is not responsible,” (Van Dyke 85). To simplify, this is the belief that everyone should have an equal chance in life, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and that no one should be disadvantaged due to artificial and arbitrary discrimination. Ceteris paribus, talent and skill should be the deciding factor in an individual’s success, not race or the neighborhood you grew up in. This is a very widely accepted ideal, but the split between conservatives and liberals happens with the implementation of the equality of opportunity. It takes a great deal of funding to get close, and this neccesitates giving up individual economic liberty for the public good, which conservatives oppose and liberals advocate. F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative program is the widely accepted starting point for a government that put equality of opportunity at the forefront of the agenda. Roosevelt’s administration enacted a massive amount of legislation with the aim of alleviating the financial stresses of the American people following the Great Depression that began in 1928. Roosevelt “. . . saw a need for an activist and interventionalist government- a government that would actively strive to make it possible for people to have better lives” and he wished to “give worth to freedom by making jobs and food available” (Van Dyke 39).

Programs such as Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare/Medicaid all seek to provide everyone with at least a minimal amount of footing. We, as society, have decided that it is worth the expense to ensure that everyone at least has a means to feed their family and receive medical care should they need it. Since the New Deal, government has made countless attempts to give the best possible advantage to the disadvantaged, and many conservatives would still consider these efforts in vain. They see an infringement on individual liberty because taxes must necessarily increase to support these sweeping programs, but I personally feel that these gestures for the public good are worth the abdication of a small amount of individual liberty. Indeed, there is redistribution taking place, but I see the balance as very reasonable, and the public benefit satisfactory.

In conclusion, whether an individual feels that the progressive liberal ideology does a suitable job in balancing public good with individual liberty almost entirely is question of personal beliefs about human nature. Of these beliefs, they are nearly all so fundamental and foundational to everything else that people very rarely abandon one ideology to accept another. My point is that an individual who is conservative could take every point I have argued here and simply argue it the other way; with both our conclusions being normative in nature. Regardless, I strongly feel that citizens have a responsibility to each other. We should, by default, ensure that our fellow man has a roof over his head and food on his table, with the burden of proving his unworthiness on us. Even if this means increased financial burden on myself, I am accepting of it. The public good is worth the minimal encroachment on my paycheck.



Van Dyke, Vernon. Ideology and Political Choice. Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995.


Political ideologies control nearly every facet of governmental action. They drive us all to make decisions, and we rely on them heavily in our daily lives. In this essay I examine the ideologies of two United States Senators with respect to the solution to global warming, as well as the hotly debated issue of immigration reform. Nexuses are formed between their political positions, congressional votes, and their individual political ideologies. Despite these two specific issues being somewhat a product of contemporary political discourse, the aforementioned connections can be made. I will also shine a light on my own personal political ideology, relating it to the positions the Senators take, and explaining how other characteristics of my ideology influence my daily decision-making process and drive me towards certain beliefs about individual and group behavior, and also the role of government.


The salience of environmental issues are increasing on a daily basis. Businesses are flocking to the “Go-Green” bandwagon in an attempt to take advantage of the growing consumer belief that we have a moral responsibility to put the environment first. As an individual that strongly believes in environmental preservation, regardless of the intentions, it is refreshing to see such an emphasis on these issues. Such a widespread consensus is what makes Jim Inhofe’s (R-Oklahoma) actions so disheartening. Inhofe is one of the most prominent and outspoken critics of global warming, even authoring a book that was published in 2012 named “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” The icing on the cake is that Inhofe is the chairperson of the Senate Environment Committee, and has also received (to date) $1,734,471 in campaign contributions from companies in the oil and gas industries (Open Secrets).

What makes Inhofe’s position on global warming especially significant is that his outspoken denial has far more than just domestic implications. The planet and citizens of every nation stand to suffer from his influence. Inhofe has cited the Bible on the Senate floor when addressing his colleagues in an attempt to sway their vote on bills with environmental impact, with quotes such as “Climate is changing, and climate has always changed. There’s archeological evidence of that. There’s biblical evidence of that. There’s historic evidence of that. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful, they can change climate. Man can’t change climate,” which in fact we have and we will (Schulman). I am not trying to disrespect Christianity, but I am trying to discredit it as a source for scientific information relevant to the 21st century. His denial is dangerous, especially when he appeals to his religious base in order to make a divine connection. The layman sees these exchanges on CSPAN, and because they aren’t particularly interested in the subject, don’t seek out additional information; ultimately taking his word for it.

Inhofe’s approach to environmental concerns has characteristics of economic conservatism, as well as libertarianism, although his outright denial of scientific fact is reminiscent of no political ideology. His biggest argument, especially in his book, is that the governmental regulation of companies that contribute to global warming and pollution is not worth the cost they must impose- either administrative or punitive. From the cover of his book, “Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. . . A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives . . .” (Inhofe). Inhofe conflates the question of causality, presenting to his readers the “cause” of the global warming issue is an insatiable lust for bigger government by the bureaucracy. He is confusing the issue, trying to elicit an emotional rather than a rational response from his readers; which is literally one of the fundamental goals of political propaganda.

I do not attempt here to refute Inhofe’s arguments, but I do wish to point out that he has seemed to have forgotten one of government’s most fundamental purposes: the control of negative externalities. Global warming qualifies. The creation of pollution has an unquantifiable negative effect on each and every one of us. It is a textbook collective-goods problem, which Inhofe should absolutely be well versed, testament to his BA in Economics. Economic conservatives are of the belief that the costs imposed through regulation for environmental purposes aren’t worth the increase in the federal bureaucracy, saying it is “the biggest impetus for the growth in government in our time. . .” (Van Dyke 171). Many libertarians take the position that the free-market will keep these externalities under control, but too often we see that is not the case at all- and most of the time only serves to exacerbate externalities created by the free-market in the first place, e.g. global warming. Because global warming is such an illustrious example of a negative externality, liberals are almost unanimously favorable to governmental regulation of it. It is a strong belief that I personally hold, and I look forward to the day that Inhofe is voted out of office before his misinformation campaign does anymore damage to the global movement for environmental preservation.


Immigration reform has been at the forefront of political discourse since the beginning of 2014, culminating in President Obama’s assertion that he will use an executive order to put his desired reforms in place until Congress passes a bill. This presented a huge problem for a divided Congress, as the Republican House of Representative’s leadership refused to call a vote on the immigration bill that had passed in the Senate. This bill had garnered a significant amount of bipartisan support throughout Congress and the public, but without action by the Speaker of the House, reform was at an impasse.

One of Obama’s biggest opponents on immigration reform is Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz presents his own platform, calling mainly for increased border security and deportation of those that are already in the United States illegally. He has proposed amendments to the immigration bill that bar any illegal immigrant from “becoming a citizen at any point.” The “Gang of Eight” group that Cruz is a part of has proposed their own immigration platform that modifies the current path to citizenship, forcing immigrants to learn English, imposing brow-raising fines, and requires United States residency for ten years. All in all, it would take thirteen years for immigrants to obtain citizenship status; unreasonable by any measure (Foley).

Cruz takes a staunchly social conservative approach to this legislation. He rejects the principle of multiculturalism, apparent in his proposed legislation that forces immigrants to learn English and assimilate; which is especially ironic considering Cruz has a Cuban father. He rejects individualism in this sense, a conservative principle, fearing a trend towards a more ethnically diverse nation and a future demographic composition that social conservatives fear will undermine “a common culture and a single society,” (Van Dyke 77).

The United States has historically been a multicultural nation, and the act of respecting the heritage of others is a sanctified principle of our country. Sure, there is always societal pressure to assimilate to our culture, but we have never forced it to happen, and that’s precisely what Ted Cruz seeks to do. Another fundamental principle of American political thought are the ideas of tolerance and neutrality; and with immigration, these notions are especially relevent. We have a duty not only to our citizens but to our immigrants to treat them as equals, maintain neutrality with respect to their own ideological doctrines, and be tolerant with respect to their culture. The language they speak is to always be their decision. Furthermore we should be accepting of people’s desires to immigrate to the United States to begin with, as we are a nation comprised almost in its entirety of immigrants. Cruz is obviously not on board with this ideal, seeking to structure the immigration system in such a way as to discourage people from immigrating, or encourage people to immigrate illegally with regard to the thirteen-year-long pathway to citizenship. This is not American. It’s not who we are.


Of all the political ideologies I have been exposed to and studied, I would submit that neoliberalism best encapsulates my beliefs about government and human nature. When I speak of neoliberalism, I mean an ideology that has progressive liberalism at its heart, but places more emphasis on restraint and reason. I actively strive to prevent decisions made with regard to strict adherence to an ideology, and most importantly I frequently make an attempt to reason myself out of my beliefs. Neoliberals “want thoughtful rather than automatic responses to problems, not sticking strictly to the old ideological line,” (Van Dyke 267). Neoliberals also stress deference to the entrepreneur, believing that economic growth and societal stability begins with business owners. I share these same ideas, and I believe that removing regulation that hurts business and enacting policy that rewards domestic companies for staying domestic would be beneficial to society as a whole.

Social equality is to be strived for, though unlike Kaus, I do not believe that we should completely give up the fight for economic equality (Van Dyke 268). By placing more emphasis on social equality, however, I believe that a new found societal attitude towards each other would help more than anything to solve our current issues with the massive wealth gap between the rich and the poor. If everyone were seen as equals, perhaps we would see less greed and more charity. The death of arbitrary discrimination, racism, and bigotry is long past due. Even with unprecedented access to the collective knowledge and news of the world, there are some that still thrive on these social inequalities. Liberalism has worked to diminish the effects of them to a great extent over the several decades, but there is still much more that needs to be done.

In this principle of social equality is another very important characteristic of my (as well as liberal) political ideology: the elevation of the principle of tolerance. Several issues have risen to prominence over the past several decades that shouldn’t be a policy debate to begin with, but even so, it is too often that people do not exercise neutrality to them. Emerging in the 1970’s after Roe v. Wade was the issue of abortion, which still continues vigorously to this day. Abortion clinics have daily protests outside the doors, shaming every woman that chooses to purchase their services. These women choose to have an abortion not out of pleasure but out of desperation; and because many experience their own guilt afterwards their privacy should be respected; the public shaming is uncalled for. Those hostile to abortion cannot exercise neutrality, and nor can they tolerate this practice or respect the privacy of the aforementioned women. Unfortunately, there seems to be no clear end to this debate. Perhaps more sex education in schools, or a nationwide welfare program that assists new mothers explicitly with childcare could better curtail the number of abortions taking place.

Tolerance with respect to nationality and religion is a principle needed now more than ever. With the recent attacks throughout the world, various terrorist groups have painted a distasteful picture for Arabs of every nationality. People are becoming more and more frustrated with practitioners of Islam because the media coverage adversely selects only the tragedies with nothing positive to counter. This has led to widespread negative sentiment towards Arabs and Muslims alike, prompting several global social media campaigns to reiterate tolerance among the people; such as the #JeSuisCharlie campaign after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and #IllRideWithYou post-café-attack in Sydney. More importantly, tolerance must be exercised in a reciprocal fashion. No matter the social backlash, the shame is ultimately on the terrorists that have a great deal of trouble exercising tolerance themselves. Increased societal intolerance of anything destroys our equity in progress, while damaging our cohesion as a people. It limits us in advancing a unified social agenda, and disrupts the democratic process by obfuscating the importance of issues.

Neutrality with respect to religion is a principle I fear we will never come close to achieving. Every year, it seems, there is a new court case addressing prayer in a school. At the root of the Judeo-Christian-supremacy sentiment many Americans harbor is the common misconception that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I suppose the Framers of the Constitution tried their best to dispel any future misinterpretation by stating plainly that the church and state were to forever be separate, but still many Americans don’t feel the same way. Reagan himself said we must “allow God back into our classrooms. He never should have been expelled in the first place,” (Van Dyke 196). Thus, I take the completely opposite position than a social conservative would take: I do not believe that any explicitly religious moral rule should be a doctrine that the state plays a role in imposing. Religions deserve respect, provided they give it to others, but they do not belong in the public sector. The separation of church and state is what has allowed us to progress so much as a nation, and to adulterate that principle is to spell the death of hallowed American values.

At the center of it all is the liberal idea of equality of opportunity and positive liberty. The government has a duty to provide means for people (that would otherwise be trapped in poverty indefinitely) to find financial security and economic success. Socioeconomic status is almost always decided by the socioeconomic status of the family you were born into. Equality of opportunity should be our goal by default, and “the burden of justification [is] on those who support some kind of inequality,” (Van Dyke 83). We all have a responsibility to each other to ensure that constraints outside of others’ control will not limit them in their pursuits, social or economic. Aside from a moral responsibility, there are economic considerations as well. When an individual is proficient at, or even has the capacity to learn, a skill but is never able to engage in that business in the marketplace, inefficiencies are created where the individual could possibly do the job better than another.

Liberty should have worth. We should not simply settle on a definition that defines liberty as the absence of arbitrary discrimination. People must have real choices, and it is the role of government to ensure that is the case for every individual in this nation.

Other species on this planet fight for food. They fight for a mate, and some even fight for shelter. What makes humans different is that we fight for our beliefs. In our modern world we call this fight politics, and it controls nearly every aspect of our lives. It seems petty in this context, but I cannot help feeling anxious that the (subjectively) wrong kind of legislation might be passed with regard to environmental concerns or immigration reform. It seems insignificant, yes, but our capacity to reason gives rise to the empathetic concerns I have for those that will be affected by these decisions. This capacity to reason we share with no other species, and that’s what makes politics important, and the study of political ideology essential.


Foley, Elise. “Ted Cruz Files Immigration Amendment to Ban Path to Citizenship.” Huffington Post, 8 May 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Inhofe, James. The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. WND Books, 2012. Print.

“Senator James M. Inhofe.” Open Secrets, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Van Dyke, Vernon. Ideology and Political Choice. Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995.