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Abstract

While scholars have hypothesised that a strong welfare state should reduce voters' incentives to base their votes on economic outcomes, evidence for this proposition remains mixed. This article tests whether differences in welfare protections across American states affect the relationship between economic performance and support for the president's party in 430 state legislative elections from 1970 to 1989. Analysing the results of over 42,000 contests in which an incumbent was running for re-election, it finds that while unemployment insurance programmes do not affect the importance of economic performance, the electoral fortunes of presidential co-partisans are less strongly tied to the national economy in states with generous anti-poverty programmes. Thus by reducing vulnerability to poverty, economic safety-nets lower the salience of the economy and provide electoral cover for politicians during economic slowdowns.