Polls and Elections Using Approval of the President's Handling of the Economy to Understand Who Polarizes and Why


Gregory E. McAvoy is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the author of Controlling Technocracy: Citizen Rationality and the NIMBY Syndrome.

Peter K. Enns is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University. His research has appeared in the British Journal of Political Science, and he is coeditor of the forthcoming book Who Gets Represented?


The authors utilize data from nearly 200 surveys conducted during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to evaluate whose presidential evaluations polarize and why. Specifically, assessments of the president's handling of the economy among high-, middle-, and low-education Democrats, independents, and Republicans are considered. The authors find only weak evidence that education moderates partisan evaluations of the president. Throughout the period of analysis, there are more similarities across partisan groups than differences. However, midway through Bush's first term in office, polarization becomes pronounced. Statistical analysis suggests that this pattern arises because Republicans no longer incorporated economic information into their evaluations, as they did during the Clinton presidency.