We review advances in the study of retrospective voting, or how citizens evaluate and act on their perceptions of government performance. As a whole, the recent literature provides a more complete and nuanced picture of the retrospective voter as sometimes, but not always, effectively incentivizing elected officials to enhance public welfare. Leveraging examples of retrospective voting in areas other than the economy, the field is heading toward a middle ground in which voters resemble decision makers in many other domains. In many cases, a coherent logic governs voters' choices. In other instances, voters make mistakes, often in predictable ways subject to well-known psychological biases. Understanding the circumstances under which retrospective voting achieves effective democratic accountability and when it fails to do so is an important task for subsequent research. We discuss two additional issues for future exploration: a better understanding of normative benchmarks, and increased attention to the relationship between retrospective voting behavior and policy outcomes.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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