Analyzing the Effects of Unemployment on Political Polarization in New York State

By Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

BLOG. In this empirical research I attempt to investigate possible causation between the level of unemployment and the level of political polarization in New York State by county. I hypothesize that the increase in unemployment will lead to higher levels of political polarization following the intuition of political fanaticism grounded on economic distress. The method used in this study to measure the level of political polarization is by dissecting New York State voter enrollment by county and party affiliation, then comparing the number of votes enrolled for polarized parties relative to moderate parties resulting in a polarization index. The changes in the polarization index for all of New York State’s 62 counties is examined relative to the unemployment rate over 48 time periods ranging from November 1996 to November 2019. The time it takes for the cumulative unemployment rate to have an effect on the behavior of voters is also analyzed. The outcome of my research repudiates the original hypothesis, as the results show that increased unemployment leads to decreased polarization, citing voter disengagement from smaller polarized parties in favor of larger moderate ones during times of economic distress and financial uncertainty. Results are more statistically significant when incorporating a lag of at least six months between the recorded polarization index and the unemployment rate.

Read the full paper here.

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