Political Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 1071–1098 | Cite as

Is the Relationship Between Political Responsibility and Electoral Accountability Causal, Adaptive and Policy-Specific?

  • Martin Vinæs LarsenEmail author
Original Paper


Will voters hold an incumbent more electorally accountable for the quality of a policy outcome if the incumbent’s political responsibility for the underlying policy increases? To answer this question, this study exploits a reform of labor market regulation in Denmark that exogenously assigned more political responsibility for unemployment services to some municipal mayors. The study finds that in subsequent elections these mayors were held more electorally accountable for unemployment services, but not more accountable for other policy outcomes. This suggests that the relationship between political responsibility and electoral accountability is causal, adaptive and tied to specific policies. On balance, the electorate thus seems to be quite judicious when assigning electoral credit or blame, moderating the extent to which incumbents are held accountable for specific outcomes based on the extent to which these incumbents crafted and implemented the policies that shaped these outcomes.


Electoral accountability Retrospective voting Clarity of responsibility Quasiexperiments 



For comments on previous drafts, I would like to thank Marc Andre Bodet, Thad Dunning, Michael Lewis-Beck, Gabriel Lenz, Peter Thisted Dinesen, Peter Bjerre Mortensen, Cecilia Mo, Kasper Møller Hansen, Asmus Leth Olsen, Richard Nadeau, Michael Sances, Søren Serritzlew and Rune Stubager. For their work in collecting the Danish Municipal Election surveys, I would like to thank Ulrik Kjær, Christian-Elmelund Præstekær and Jørgen Elklit. Replication files for this paper are available in the Political Behavior Dataverse (

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9483_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (613 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 613 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

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