ANES: An accurate history of American politics as seen through the eyes of voters, says Morris Fiorina

Post developed by Katie Brown and Morris P. Fiorina.

ANES65thThis post is the first in a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science. Do you have ideas for additional posts? Please contact us by email (cps-center@umich.edu) or Twitter (@umisrcps).

Ahead of the 2012 Presidential election, Morris P. Fiorina, who is the Wendt Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.

In the article, Fiorina used American National Election Studies (ANES) data to consider the role of the personal qualities of candidates in election outcomes.  Fiorina referenced a research report published in the British Journal of Political Science (with Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope) after the 2000 presidential election in the United States. The report sought to explain Al Gore’s defeat in the election during a time of peace and prosperity. The report utilized a battery of questions from the ANES that asks respondents to detail what would make them vote for or against each candidate. The authors coded the respondents’ responses to measure candidates’ personal qualities.

What was the relationship between this rating of candidates’ personal qualities and election outcomes? Looking at thirteen elections from 1952 to 2000, Fiorina and his colleagues found that in four elections the electorate gave a noticeable edge to one of the candidates, but the outcomes were not what pundits would have expected. For example, the highest rated Democratic candidate was Jimmy Carter, who lost to the lowest rated Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan, in 1980.  And the lowest rated Democratic candidate was Bill Clinton, who won a landslide re-election in 1996.

In the op-ed, based on these findings, Fiorina challenged those citing Romney’s likability deficit relative to Obama as an unlikely cause of the election outcome. As Fiorina wrote, “If Romney loses, it will be because the public believes that Obama has done a good enough job to continue or that Romney has not advanced a credible recovery program. ‘Voters didn’t like my personality’ is a loser’s excuse.”

In subsequent media interviews, Fiorina emphasized how the ANES, funded by the American National Science Foundation (NSF), is far more than another database; it is a 60 year political history of electoral politics in the US.  As Fiorina commented, “ANES provides an accurate history of modern American politics, as seen through the eyes of voters at the time, not filtered through the lenses of academic historians or biased journalists.”

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