Bread & Peace Voting

Background Information on the ‘Bread and Peace’ Model of Voting in Postwar US Presidential Elections

According to the ‘Bread and Peace’ model, postwar US presidential elections can for the most part be interpreted as a sequence of referendums on the incumbent party’s record during its four-year mandate period. In fact aggregate two-party vote shares going to candidates of the party holding the presidency during the postwar era are well explained by just two fundamental determinants:

(1) Positively by weighted-average growth of per capita real disposable personal income over the term.

(2) Negatively by cumulative US military fatalities (scaled to population) owing to unprovoked, hostile deployments of American armed forces in foreign wars.

My research claims to show that no other objectively measured exogenous or pre-determined variable systematically affected partisan divisions of postwar aggregate votes for president. Other factors of course influence presidential voting – and potentially so dramatically that the persistent signal of objective bread and peace fundamentals at times may be obscured. However such factors are transitory rather than persistent. They vary randomly from election to election, and they defy ex-ante objective measurement. Hence candidate personalities and related idiosyncratic behavioral attributes, real and imagined, play no role in my model. Nor do social issues that may arise unpredictably and then vanish. The Bread and Peace model is designed to explain voting outcomes scientifically, not to predict elections optimally. The model applies to the generic candidate of the incumbent party (the party holding the Presidency) vs. the generic candidate of the principal opposition party at each election. Better election forecasts ought to be delivered by polls and betting markets – but of course poll and betting data explain nothing.

To learn about the theoretical framework, technical mechanics and much else about my Bread and Peace model of voting in US presidential elections, including critical remarks about the work of others on the topic, you may consult the following:

  • Slides from lectures I gave at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia in 2014: http://www.douglas-hibbs.com/HibbsArticles/HIBBS-PRESVOTE-SLIDES-MELBOURNE-Part1-2014-02-26.pdf. My Melbourne lectures are the most comprehensive written account of my thinking on the Bread and Peace model, and aggregate voting models more broadly. Among other things the slides include analyses of the impact of changes in income and wealth distributions on aggregate voting equations based on average income data.
  • http://www.douglas-hibbs.com/HibbsArticles/PublicChoice2000.pdf is my first sustained treatment of Bread and Peace voting. In this paper the basic Bread and Peace setup is tested against twenty-two variations in functional form (mainly additional variables) appearing in the voluminous literature on economic voting. None of the variations added value to my Bread and Peace model.
  • Precursors of the Bread and Peace model appear in chapter 6 of my 1987 book American Political Economy (http://www.douglas-hibbs.com/HibbsArticles/AmericanPoliticalEconomy-1987.pdf) and in my 1982 journal article on Reagan’s first presidential election victory in 1980 (http://www.douglas-hibbs.com/HibbsArticles/APQ-1982.pdf). Among other things, this research claimed to show that Reagan’s victories in 1980 and 1984 did not represent a general ‘shift to the right’ in the electorate’s political disposition, but instead were the predictable consequences of economic performance – as measured by the weighted-average per capita real disposable personal income growth rate variable used in all of my subsequent papers on aggregate US voting outcomes in presidential as well as House elections.