Exercise 5. Financial Situation and the Presidential Vote
The condition of the nation's economy was a central issue in the 2012 presidential election. In past elections, the feelings that voters had about the economy have been an important influence on their voting behavior, so there was every reason to think that such feelings would be important in 2012. As we discussed in the section on the 2012 election, the U.S. economy was recovering very slowly from the recession of 2008-2009, and Republicans charged that Obama was a weak and ineffective manager of the economy. To examine the relationship between attitudes about the economy and the vote, start by generating a table that shows how an individual's assessment of his or her personal financial situation over the past year (F01) was related to the individual's presidential vote. For the reasons suggested in Exercise 1, you should use the recoded version of A02 that you created for that exercise, so that you examine only the major-party vote (i.e., only the Obama and Romney 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 Obama administration. To examine this relationship, construct a table that shows how an individual's assessment of President Obama's handling of the economy (E02) was related to the individual's presidential vote (use your recoded version of A02 that has only major-party voters).
Tables 5A and 5B raise 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 Obama's handling of the economy (E02) as a potential intervening variable between personal economic situation (F01) 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 simplify the tables and to ensure that you have a sufficient number of respondents in each column of each subtable, you should recode E02 and F01. For information on how to create a three-variable table using SDA, see Exercise 3 or Exercise 4.
In this example, the relationship between personal financial situation and presidential vote virtually disappears after we control for assessment of Obama'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 and that personal financial situation directly affected the vote. If the original bivariate relationship had remained in the three variable table, but was than it was in the two-variable table, then we would conclude that some of the effect of personal financial situation on the vote was through the assessment of the president's handling of the economy and some of the effect was more direct (or perhaps through another intervening variable).