A presentation by Timothy Hellwig (Professor of Political Science and Academic Director of the Europe Gateway at Indiana University).
Economic conditions serve as gauges of government performance, with voters responding to downturns by punishing incumbents. Yet despite a large literature on the economic bases of government survival, no study considers variation within the opposition. Does the economy matter for the choice between challengers? When faced with the task of assessing policymaker performance in tough times, which challenger do voters choose: an established party with experience as head of government or an inexperienced outside option? While conventional accounts attribute the successes of outsider parties to position taking on salient issues, we propose an explanation anchored in competence. Even in tough economic times, selecting unproven challengers is always a costly proposition. These costs are minimized, however, when the duration of economic underperformance is long, and the tenure of the sitting government is short. A series of micro and macro-level analyses provide evidence in support of our argument. Study findings show that parties, even within the opposition, can be distinguished on competence grounds and not position-taking strategies alone.