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Will It Still Be The Economy, Stupid, In 2020?

A video featuring panel discussion with four distinguished political scientists discussing the role of the economy in the 2020 elections. This event was co-sponsored by Social Science Matrix and the Jack Citrin Center for Public Opinion Research.

Recorded on September 24, 2019, this panel discussion featured distinguished political scientists discussing the role the economy is likely to play in the 2020 elections. This event was co-sponsored by Social Science Matrix and the Jack Citrin Center for Public Opinion Research.

Following introductory remarks by Gabriel Lenz, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, each of the three featured panelists presented 20-minute talks.

Lynn Vavreck, Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA, emphasized that, while the economy always plays a starring role in presidential campaigns, other factors matter as well, including who the candidates are (“all candidates come with constraints, and it matters who you’re standing next to,” she explained), as well as the messages they convey in their campaigns. She noted that it would be “super risk” for Democrats to challenge Donald Trump on the same terms as the 2016 election, and instead should seek a “new frontier” message.

Douglas Rivers, Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, discussed the role of surveys themselves in determining people’s opinions about the economy. He shared that he recently conducted an experiment showing that framing a question such as “are you better off now than you were a year ago?” results in starkly different results depending on whether the question is asked in the context of a political survey or a market research survey. “Almost half of the effect goes away if you take away the context of it being a political survey,” Rivers said.

James E. Campbell, UB Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, also noted that, while GDP growth in an election year seems to be closely aligned to the election outcome, there are other factors. “It’s clear the economy is important, but there are complications to this in determining the effect,” Campbell said. Among the complicating factors are the question of timing of the economic growth; the fact that partisanship affects people’s opinions about the economy; and that the amount of growth that is seen as negative or positive is difficult to determine. “On top of that, we have a problem that we often don’t recognize these problems,” Campbell said.

Watch the video above (or on YouTube) to learn more about the role the economy will play in the 2020 election.


James E. Campbell is a UB Distinguished Professor of political science at the University at Buffalo. He is the author of four university press books and more than 80 journal articles and book chapters. His most recent book is Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America (Princeton University Press). His other books include The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote (Texas A&M, 2000 and 2008), Cheap Seats: The Democratic Party’s Advantage in U.S. House Elections (Ohio State, 1996), and The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections (Kentucky, 1993 and 1997).

Doug Rivers is one of the world’s leading experts on survey research and a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur.  He has taught at Harvard University, Caltech, UCLA, and, most recently, Stanford University, where he is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Doug has founded two successful technology companies, Preview Systems and Knowledge Networks. Preview Systems pioneered the field of digital rights management, conducted a successful IPO in 1999, and was sold in 2001. As CEO of the company, he was named Executive of the Year (2000) by Research Business Report and received the Innovator’s Award by the American Association of Public Opinion Research (2001). He is also a CBS News consultant and has published academic papers in numerous journals including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and the American Economics Review, to name a few. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Lynn Vavreck is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA, a contributing columnist to The Upshot at The New York Times, and a recipient of the Andrew F. Carnegie Prize in the Humanities and Social Sciences.  She is the author of five books, including the “most ominous” book on the 2016 election: Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, and The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, described as the “definitive account” of the 2012 election. Political consultants on both sides of the aisle refer to her work on political messaging in The Message Matters as “required reading” for presidential candidates. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and she has served on the advisory boards of both the British and American National Election Studies. At UCLA, she teaches courses on campaigns, elections, public opinion, and the 1960s. Professor Vavreck holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Rochester and held previous appointments at Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and The White House.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she remains a loyal Browns fan and is a “known equestrian,” to draw on a phrase from the 2012 presidential campaign.

Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, Gabriel Lenz researches voters’ ability to control their elected officials. His aim is to further our understanding of when voters succeed in holding politicians accountable, when they fail, and how to help them avoid failures. He has published a book, “Follow the Leader?  How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Performance and Policies,” with the University of Chicago Press, and his articles have appeared the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Political Analysis,  Political Behavior, and Political Psychology. His work draws on insights from social psychology and economics, and his research and teaching interests are in the areas of elections, public opinion, political psychology, and political economy. Although specializing in American democracy, he also conducts research on Canada, UK, Mexico, Netherlands, and Brazil. He has ongoing projects about improving voters’ assessments of the performance of politicians, reducing the role of candidate appearance in elections, and measuring political corruption.

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