Exercise 5: Personal financial situation and presidential vote
The condition of the nation's economy was a central issue in the 2008 presidential election. In past elections, the feelings that voters had about the economy were an important influence on their voting behavior, so there was every reason to think that such feelings would be important in 2008. To examine this relationship, start by generating a table that shows how an individual's assessment of his or her personal financial situation over the past year (V050) was related to the individual's presidential vote. For the reasons suggested in exercise 1, you should use the recoded version of V002 that you created for that exercise, so that you examine only the major-party vote (i.e., only the Obama and McCain voters).
Table 5A shows how personal economic situation was related to the vote. Another perspective would be to look at how the vote was influenced by the voter's evaluation of the economic performance of the Bush administration. To examine this relationship, construct a table that shows how an individual's assessment of President Bush's handling of the economy (V047) was related to the individual's presidential vote (use your recoded version of V002 that has only major-party voters).
Tables 5A and 5B raises the question of exactly which feelings about the economy influence presidential voting and how these feelings are related. Do people vote simply on the basis of their personal economic situation (what some analysts call pocketbook voting) or do they rely on their views of how the nation's economy is being managed? How are these two attitudes related to each other? We can explore this question by considering the concept of intervening variables. Intervening variables are those that are influenced by the independent variable and in turn affect the dependent variable. They are the linkage through which one variable affects another. In this case, we might consider assessments of Bush's handling of the economy (V047) as a potential intervening variable between personal economic situation (V050) and the vote.
To examine a potential intervening variable, you should run the original two-variable relationship with the potential intervening variable added as a control variable. This will produce a separate subtable for each category of the intervening variable. In order to ensure that you have a sufficient number of respondents in each column of each subtable, you should recode V050 and V047. This will make the three-variable table easier to interpret. For information on how to create a three-variable table using SDA, see exercises 3 or 4.
In this example, the relationship between personal financial situation and presidential vote virtually disappears after we control for assessment of Bush's handling of the economy. This tells us that whatever effect that personal financial situation has on presidential vote is due to the effect that personal financial situation has on how the voter assesses the president's handling of the economy. If the original two-variable relationship had remained as strong in the three-variable table, then we would conclude that the control variable was not an intervening variable in this relationship.