Larry Bartels

Recent Articles

Below the Surface, Surprising Trust in Government

This post is coauthored with my Vanderbilt colleague Marc Hetherington : The politics of 2011 have been dominated by the fruitless search for a “grand bargain” to rein in the federal budget deficit, primarily by curtailing government spending. Much of the surface appeal of budget-cutting stems from a belief that citizens have become so disenchanted with their government that they will tolerate, and perhaps even embrace, having it do less. A recent New York Times poll found “Americans’ distrust of government at its highest level ever,” with only 10% saying they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time or always. The corresponding figure when Lyndon Johnson was president was around 70%. The erosion of public trust in government is both real and politically consequential . However, the politics of deficit reduction may hinge less on Americans’ attitudes about government in the abstract than on their attitudes about the specific agencies and activities...

The President’s Fate May Hinge on 2009

Incumbent Party’s Expected Vote Margin = 1.14 −.83 × (Years in Office) +4.51 × (4th-Year Income Growth) +1.66 × (3rd-Year Income Growth) −1.04 × (2nd-Year Income Growth) −2.34 × (1st-Year Income Growth) Most of the ingredients in this recipe for success at the polls are very familiar to students of American presidential elections. The incumbent party tends to do less well the longer it has held the White House. Robust income growth in the year of the election provides a huge boost to the incumbent’s electoral prospects. Income growth in the preceding year matters much less. The final two terms in this model are more surprising. Income growth in the second year of a president’s term is negatively (albeit weakly) related to his party’s subsequent electoral fortunes, while income growth in the year of his inauguration has a strong—and statistically reliable—negative effect. If true, this is very good news for Barack Obama, because the year of his inauguration, 2009, was one of the worst...

Unenlightened Self-Interest

The share of income going to the top one-tenth of 1 percent of American families quadrupled between 1970 and 1998, leaving the 13,000 richest families with almost as much income as the 20 million poorest families. Ordinary Americans seem to be well aware of this growing gap between rich and poor. In a recent opinion survey, 74 percent of the respondents acknowledged that the difference in incomes between rich and poor people in the United States is larger today than it was 20 years ago, and 42 percent said it was much larger. Most of these respondents added that the growing gap is a bad thing, though many others acknowledged that they hadn't thought about that. Nearly two-thirds said that government policies have contributed to economic inequality by favoring high-income workers, and more than half said that rich people are asked to pay less than they should in federal income taxes. Meanwhile, the survey found little evidence of any popular enthusiasm for economic inequality -- or...

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