Voters often punish incumbent parties for poor economic performance; whether they treat left and right governments differently is less clear. The literature hosts multiple disconnected and often contradictory theories of partisan accountability. We leverage both observational and survey experiment data to establish an empirical regularity: voters, on average, punish left-of-center incumbents more severely for economic downturns than their counterparts on the right. A luxury-goods model of voting best explains this regularity. When times get tough, voters prioritize social spending for basic economic security over spending on socially desirable but less necessary "luxury goods" policies (e.g., environmental protection). Parties associated with luxury goods policies, mostly left parties, are shunned in downturns. Thus, many incumbent parties of the left face double jeopardy: voters punish all incumbents for a weak economy; they punish many left incumbents additionally for their policies.
Mark Kayser teaches applied quantitative methods and comparative politics at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. His research primarily focuses on elections and political economy. Current major projects focus on cross-national comparisons in the formation of economic perceptions and voting decisions, media reporting of the economy, and the effect of electoral competitiveness on incumbent behavior. Before coming to the Hertie School of Governance, he served as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester and as a postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He is the co-author of a book on the effect of electoral systems on regulation and price levels (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and the author or co-author of articles in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science and other leading journals.