This article examines the ways in which political sophistication conditions economic voting in U.S. congressional elections. At the congressional level, evidence of economic voting has been generally mixed and sometimes contradictory. In our view, much of the inconsistency in existing studies may result from a tendency to overlook significant heterogeneity in voter decisionmaking. Specifically, we argue that an individual’s ability to attribute responsibility for economic outcomes to congressional actors is a function of political sophistication. According to our theory, less sophisticated voters tend to focus their attributions of responsibility on the President (the most obvious national political figure), ignoring the influence of Congress on the national economy. More sophisticated individuals, by contrast, are capable of more diffuse attributions. Thus, to the extent that conventional economic voting occurs in congressional elections, it should be confined to the more sophisticated portion of the electorate.
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