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Who's Responsible for the Economy? The Formation and Consequences of Responsibility Attributions


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2002, and the Society for Political Methodology, July 2000. I would like to thank John Freeman, Dean Lacy, Philip Paolino, Wendy Rahn, and John Sullivan for their helpful comments. Responsibility for any errors may be attributed to me.

Thomas J. Rudolph is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 361 Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801 (


The concept of responsibility lies at the heart of theories of democratic accountability. This article represents the first attempt to explicitly model attributions of presidential versus congressional responsibility for the economy. The article investigates the extent to which contextual and individual-level factors influence citizens' attributions of responsibility for the economy and how, in turn, such judgments shape their political evaluations. Employing a multinomial probit model of attributional choice, I find that responsibility judgments are shaped to varying degrees by economic ideology, perceptions of institutional context, and partisanship, although the effects of partisanship are not uniform across political parties. The results demonstrate that responsibility attributions are politically consequential and moderate the effects of economic perceptions on presidential and congressional approval. Finally, the results suggest that the effects of responsibility attributions in the sanctioning process are not invariant across the target of institutional evaluation.