Daniel J. Hopkins is an Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2009 Political Science Networks Conference (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA) and the 2010 Harvard-Manchester Summer Workshop on Inequality (University of Manchester, Manchester, UK). The author gratefully acknowledges research assistance by Hui Feng, Anton Strezhnev, William Tamplin, and Marzena Zukowska. Joseph Bafumi, Michael Bailey, Justin Grimmer, Georgia Kernell, Jonathan M. Ladd, Gabriel Lenz, Andrew J. Reeves, Erik Voeten, and Mark Williams provided helpful feedback, data, or other assistance. The author is grateful to the editors and the anonymous reviewers for recommendations that markedly strengthened the manuscript. The MIT Department of Political Science provided institutional support
Perceptions of national economic performance are a cornerstone of American public opinion and of presidential approval. Yet much of our knowledge about economic perceptions comes from political surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the recent increase in income inequality. This article updates our understanding of economic perceptions by combining the 1978–2010 Michigan Surveys of Consumer Attitudes with various economic indicators. It first uses aggregate data to show that, despite rising inequality, Americans of all incomes continue to agree about national economic performance. In past work, snapshots from elections create the impression that these assessments of economic performance are influenced only by income growth among the wealthy. Examining more than 215,000 respondents over three decades, however, we learn that income growth among the poor is frequently more influential. This article thus identifies an attitudinal mechanism by which the poor's economic condition can profoundly influence American politics.