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Page last edited05/09/2017

Voting Behaviour in the UK : Document Two : From the 1970s to the General Elections of 1992 and 1997

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[As of August 2017 I  found that some links in this document  had  been broken but as of September 2017 they have all [hopefully!] been mended ]

 

 

My Voting Behaviour documents have now been restructured, updated and revised. The original version of the first document has been divided into two sections with little further revision but the original document on the 1970s to the 1990s has been divided into two sections and revised quite significantly in an effort to clarify the differences between the various models of voting behaviour developed from the 1970s to the 1990s. The third document on the General Elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005 has been modified slightly and  I have now also written a  document on the 2010 General Election . Finally I have also recently added two pages of  links on the 2015 and 2017 General Elections respectively. Thus the new structure is as follows:

 

  1. Part A: The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain: Electoral Stability, Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970

  2. Part B: Non-Class Influences on Voting Behaviour 1945-2010

  • Document Two [New Revised Document  uploaded October 2010]

  1. Part A: Models of Voting Behaviour

  2. Part B: The General Elections of 1992 and 1997

 

 

  1. Click here for a PowerPoint on Document One

  2. Click here for a  PowerPoint on Models of Voting Behaviour

  3. Click here for a  PowerPoint on the Social Influences on Voting and Non-Voting

  4. Click here for a  PowerPoint on the General Elections of 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005

  5. Click here for 2010 General Election Links Page

  6. Click here for YouTube: 60 Interesting Video Clips!

  7. BBC Coverage of 1992 and 1997 This source provides interesting video clips, for example on the Sheffield Rally and further links to information on all post -war general elections 1945-1997]

 

 

Page last edited : 05/09/2017

This document has been and restructured during the Summer and Autumn of 2010. It is now divided into two main sections on [1] Models of Voting Behaviour and [2] the General Elections of 1992 and 1997 respectively .The first section on Models of Voting Behaviour contains a little additional material not provided in the original version of the document but I have made no changes to the second section on the General Elections of 1992 and 1997.

I hope that the following links within this document will  enable  students to navigate easily to information on each specific model of voting behaviour.

  1. Introduction

  2. The Party Identification Model

  3. The Decline of Party Identification or Partisan Dealignment

  4. Class Dealignment: Measurement and Causes

  5. The Radical Model of Voting Behaviour

  6. The Issue Voting Model of Voting Behaviour

  7. The Ideological Model of Voting Behaviour

  8. The Dominant Ideology Model of Voting Behaviour

  9. Key Political Events

  10. The Voting Context Model of Voting Behaviour

 

 

  1. Introduction

  2. The General Election of 1992

  3. The General Election of 1997

  4. Assignment: Comparing the General Elections of 1992 and 1997

 

  • Introduction

The analysis of voting behaviour is known also as "psephology" deriving from the Greek "psephos" [a pebble] with which the ancient Athenians indicated their voting decisions. Psephologists in the UK distinguish between the period  of 1945-1970 which they characterise as the era of electoral stability, two party dominance, party identification and class alignment  and the period from 1970 to the present day which is described as the era of declining party identification/partisan dealignment and class dealignment although there are also important arguments as to whether the general elections of 1997 and 2001 ushered in a realignment of UK voting behaviour.

As patterns of voting behaviour became increasingly complex psephologists developed various models of voting behaviour often involving advanced statistical method to explain voting trends and by 1990 W. I. Miller suggested that it was useful to distinguish between 6 main models of voting behaviour, a procedure which is still followed in several text books and will be followed also in this document.

Let us begin with a broad consideration of the period of 1945-1970 which has been described as a period of relative electoral stability dominated by the two major political parties: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Thus between 1945-1970 the Conservative and Labour Parties regularly gained approximately 90% of the votes cast in general elections which under the conditions of the "first past the post" electoral system translated into approximately 98% of the parliamentary seats while the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] gained a further 10-12 seats and could be relied upon to regularly support the Conservative Party in parliament. Neither the Liberal Party nor the Nationalist parties offered any real challenge to this 2 Party dominance. Further aspects of electoral stability were that opinion poll fluctuations and by election swings were relatively narrow and surveys indicated that relatively few voters switched their party allegiance between general elections although more switched between voting and non- voting. The relative stability of opinion polls suggested that most voters were  influenced far less by short term political issues than by long term social structural factors to be discussed below and variations in general election results could be said to be determined by the relatively small percentages of so-called floating voters who did switch party allegiance between general elections.

 

Election Results: Percentages of the Popular Vote [and seats won in most recent General Elections]

  Con Lab Lib/ Alliance/Lib Dem Other
1945 39.8 48.3 9.1 2.7
1950 43.5 46.1 9.1 1.3
1951 48.0 48.8 2.5 0.7
9855 49.7 46.4 2.7 1.2
1959 49.4 43.8 5.9 1.0
1964 43.4 44.1 11.2 1.3
1966 41.9 47.9 8.5 1.6
1970 46.4 43.0 7.5 3.1
1974 [Feb] 37.8 37.1 19.3 5.8
1974 [Oct] 35.8 39.2 18.3 6.7
1979 43.9 36.9 13.8 5.3
1983 42.4 27.6 25.6 4.6
1987 42.2 30.8 22.6 4.3
1992 41.9 34.4 17.8 5.8
1997 31.5  [165] 43.2 [418] 16.8  [46] 8.2 [30]
2001 31.7  [166] 40.7  [412] 18.3  [52] 6.0  [29]
2005 32.3.  [198] 35.2  [356] 22.1 [62] 8.3  [31]

2010

36.1 [307]

29.0 [258]

23.0 [57]

28 [11.9]

 

 

 

The Party Identification Model has been described at length in the previous document. In summary this model contains the following elements.

 

 But why did so many voters vote in accordance with their social class position between 1945-1970?

Variable Explanation of relationships between each variable and voting behaviour. Explanation of relationships, if any between each variable , social class and voting behaviour
Age  
Gender  
Region Scotland, Wales and  Northern England are more pro-Labour and less pro-Conservative than Southern England partly because of the higher concentrations of working class voters and lower concentrations of middle class voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern England than in Southern England.
Religion  
Ethnicity  

 

The Party Identification Model of Voting Behaviour: A Summary of a Summary!

 

Psephologists have emphasised the extent to which Party Identification [which was so central to the explanation of voting behaviour in Butler and Stokes' Party Identification Model] declined significantly especially in the 1970s. It is generally agreed that since then overall party identification has changed little although there has been further long term decline in the extent of strong party identification. 

 Click here for recent data comparing  Party Identification in 1984 and 2012 from the British Social Attitudes Survey Link added March 2014

Click here for Ipsos Mori Data on UK General Election 1974-2010 and on the General Elections of 2015 and 2017

As we consider the possible causes of the decline in party identification or partisan dealignment we may distinguish between longer term broadly sociological or social structural influences and more political [ and often but not always more  short-term] influences although it is difficult to determine precisely where the boundary between Sociology and Politics actually lies . Several possible reasons have been suggested for the decline of party identification and in each case I have classified these reasons as either broadly sociological [S] or broadly political [P] or as a mixture of the two. [SP]

  1. Changes in the nature of individual social classes and in the class structure as a whole could result in partisan dealignment .

  2. For example increasing working class affluence, the decline of traditional working class communities, the growth of the "new working class" and the increased importance of sectoral cleavages within the working class could all in principle result in declining party identification with the Labour Party. [S]

  3. Traditional processes of political socialisation which encouraged working and middle class people to identify with the Labour and Conservative Parties respectively have weakened thereby weakening traditional allegiances with these political parties. [S]

  4. Improved average education levels may enable more people to appreciate the complexity of political arguments and to recognise that no single political party has the "right answers" to political problems. Although it is also true for some people that increased education strengthens rather than weakens their party identification they may be in a minority. [SP]

  5. Since the 1950s political issues have been covered in greater detail in the mass media and as individuals access serious TV and radio discussions between major spokespersons of the political parties and/or careful media analyses of party political programmes they may increasingly come to see merit in different sides of political questions and therefore to identify less with one particular party political viewpoint. This seems a generally plausible argument although it may also be argued that some  listeners/watchers of serious political programmes may be especially likely to be strong party identifiers who will not easily discard their long term party identification although the party identification of other watchers/listeners may well weaken. [P]

  6. Alternatively peoples' identification with any one  particular political party may be much weakened by more strident campaigns in the popular press against what would otherwise have been their preferred political party. [SP]

  7. People may interpret the performances of both major parties in government as poor leading to declining identification with both major political parties as occurred for example in the late 1960s and 1970s due to the perceived inabilities of both Labour and Conservative governments to manage the economy effectively. [P]

  8. By the 1970s it was possible that increasing affluence led some voters to concern themselves increasingly with so-called post-materialist issues relating to environment, quality of life , civil liberties, nuclear disarmament  and "Third World" development which they believed were not being addressed seriously by the major political parties all of which resulted in declining party identification [and in some cases  increased pressure group membership] among such individuals. [P]

  9. In the original formulation of the party identification model by Butler and Stokes it was suggested that party identification had a degree of permanence as a result of long term processes of political socialisation which caused working class and middle class voters to identify primarily with the Labour Party or the Conservative Party respectively and that individual issues, policies and political leaders had little influence on voting behaviour. However it has increasingly been argued that party identification also has an important more transitory component such that party identification could be influenced also by changes in party leadership, changes in ideology, changes in image and changes in policy. Thus, for example, party identification with Labour may have declined in the late 1960s and 1970s due to disaffection among previous party identifiers with core Labour Party principles of public ownership, increased welfare spending and support for the trades union movement. Similarly, the 1992 ERM crisis could have reduced identification with the Conservative Party while disillusion with the New Labour project could have reduced identification with the Labour Party especially by the time of the 2005 General Election. This latter point suggests that the Party Identification Model may to some extent overlap with the Issue Voting Model to be considered later. [SP]  

 It is likely that the above factors causing individual partisan dealignment are likely also to lead to class dealignment : that is: to a weakening of the relationships between social class and voting behaviour: for example increased affluence within the working class may cause many working class voters to identify less with the Labour Party and to cease voting Labour and working class voters might also identify less with the Labour Party as a result of unpopular changes in Labour Party policy which also discourages them from voting Labour and leads, therefore to class dealignment.  However it may be possible that in some cases partisan dealignment may not result in class dealignment for example as when working class voters' identification with Labour declines but they continue to vote Labour because they identify even less with the other political parties.

Let us now investigate the phenomenon  class dealignment in more detail.

 

  ABC1 [= middle class] C2DE [= working class]
Labour 10 50
Liberal  Democrat 30 25
Conservative 60 25
  1. Working class dealignment could in principle be caused by changes in political attitudes which in turn were caused by sociological changes in the nature of the working class deriving from embourgeoisement and/or the growth of the new working class and/or increasing sectoral cleavages most notably between public sector and private sector workers and/or between consumers of private health care, education and transport consumers and consumers of publicly provided health care, education and transport and/or the growth of a "new working class" different in several respects from the "old working class."

  2. From the 1950s onwards it was increasingly suggested that the more affluent sections of the working class were experiencing a process of Embourgeoisement. That is to say, these manual workers were becoming middle class. Their work was now less physically demanding; they were regularly consulted by management; they were better paid than many clerical workers; and it was claimed that consequently  they did not see themselves as working class and partly as a result of this, were unlikely to vote Labour which helped to explain the three successive defeats for Labour in the General Elections of 1951, 1955 and 1959. If this theory was correct, the boundary between the middle class and the working class was becoming very blurred especially if some proletarianisation of the clerical worker was also occurring.

    However, the theory of Embourgeoisement was heavily criticised by Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt in the so-called "Affluent Worker" studies of the late 1960s in which they aimed to compare the class positions of affluent factory workers, clerical workers and members of the traditional working class.  I shall not consider the details of the study here but in summary, Goldthorpe and Co. claimed to have uncovered not a process of Embourgeoisement but the emergence of a "new working class" whose work experience, life styles, attitudes and values, although different from those of the traditional working class, were ,nevertheless, still recognisably working class. They argued also that a process of "normative convergence" between the "new working class" and the clerical workers was underway as clerical workers also increasingly joined trade unions attempting to halt the relative decline in their living standards  

    The authors found also that in the late 50s and early 60s, affluent manual workers were still highly likely  to support Labour as shown by the fact that  80% of their sample had voted Labour in the 1959 General Election.  However, the Goldthorpe Lockwood study also indicated that this affluent working class support for Labour was conditional, instrumental and potentially volatile such that under different political circumstances, the affluent manual workers in the Goldthorpe Lockwood study could easily imagine themselves voting Conservative . Working class support for Labour did fall  considerably in the 1970 General Election won by the Conservative Party but Labour recovered to some extent in the two General Elections of 1974, both of which it  won narrowly.

    The Conservatives under Mrs. Thatcher won the General Election of 1979 which resulted in another significant decline in working class support for Labour such that by 1979 only 41% of C2 and 49% of DE voters were voting Labour. In 1983 Labour again lost working class support not to the Conservatives but to the Lib/SDP Alliance but from1983 onwards working class support for the Labour Party gradually began to increase again. Nevertheless by  the  late 1980s, it was again argued by some that the Embourgeoisement  process was underway as the living standards of manual workers in secure employment did improve significantly and more and more of them bought their own houses , bought shares in privatised industries and were more likely to vote Conservative now than they had been in the 1960s, thus contributing importantly to Conservative General Election victories of 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992.  However social class inequalities actually increased in the 1980s and early 1990s again discrediting the idea that affluent sections of the working class were now experiencing embourgeoisement but the increased affluence of many working class voters  may nevertheless have encouraged more of them to vote Conservative even if they were still "objectively working class."

     

  3. Class dealignment might also be explained in terms of the so-called radical model of voting behaviour which was developed by P.Dunleavy and Christopher Husbands in their study "British Democracy at the Crossroads" [1985] . The  radical model of voting behaviour which departed in several respects from the traditional Party Identification Model but also called into question some of the conclusions of the Issue Voting Model[ to be discussed below]. According to Dunleavy and Husbands class dealignment occurred  because of the growth of sectoral cleavages  within both the working class and the middle class as between public sector and private sector workers and between consumers of publicly and privately provided housing, health care, education and transport. Public sector workers and consumers of publicly provided services are more likely to Labour  because they perceive Labour as the party most likely to improve public sector pay and conditions and to improve public services while private sector workers and consumers of privately  services may be more likely to vote Conservative because they oppose the higher levels of taxation necessary to defend public service employment and the expansion of public services which they do not use. Thus the theory helps to explain why middle class public sector employees and/or consumers of publicly provided services are disposed to vote Labour and working class private sector employees and/or consumers of privately provided services are more likely to vote Conservative. [Also in their radical model Dunleavy and Husbands claim that governments may use their own policies  to improve their own electoral prospects [as when the Conservatives embarked on a programme of council house sales; that the mass media help to spread a dominant class ideology whose widespread acceptance means that the voters' decisions are not as "rational" as is sometimes implied in models of issue voting and that the apparent correlation between voters policy preferences and their voting behaviour may arise because they have adjusted their stated policy preferences to conform to their voting decisions which have actually been determined by other factors. They argue  also that the power of governments to determine the timing of the general election gave the Conservatives a significant advantage in 1983 . However it did not help the Conservatives in 1997 and it may be that it is unlikely to help Labour in 2010.

  4. Later in this document we shall consider  the dominant ideology model which focuses  entirely on ways in which the mass media disseminate a dominant class ideology . As we now see Dunleavy and Husbands' radical model incorporates the dominant ideology but also includes other important elements.

  5. Class dealignment has also been explained by Ivor Crewe in terms of differences between the old and the new working class noting that in the General Elections of 1987 and 1992 working class people living in the North or renting council accommodation  or who were trade union members or who worked in the public sector[= "the old working class" ] were more likely to vote Labour than were working class people living in the South  or buying/owning their own accommodation or who were not members of trade unions or who worked in the private sector [="the new working class"]. The predicted future growth of the new working class and decline of the old working class could be expected to harm Labour's electoral prospects or so it was thought in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Crewe noted also that there appeared to be significant divisions within the middle class: middle class voters who were university educated and worked in the public sector were less likely middle class voters working in the private sector to vote Conservative and more likely to vote for the Alliance Parties and for the Labour Party. Perhaps it would be those middle class voters who by 1997 would be especially attracted to New Labour?

  6. We may adapt the above analyses to distinguish between Labour's core working class support and working class voters who occupy cross class locations. If Labour's core voters are those who live in the North and in council housing and work in the public sector and are members of trade unions it is clear that an increasing proportion of working class people do not fall into all of these categories so that they may be said to occupy cross class locations and as a result they may be less like than the core voters to vote Labour all of which increases the probability of class dealignment.

  7. Increasing numbers of families may be seen as mixed class families where for example male partners are skilled manual workers and female partners are clerical workers. One or other of the partners may be fairly likely to vote against their "natural class party" because of their exposure to competing political messages.

Click Here  and Here  and scroll down for Ipsos Mori  Political Monitor and Issue Index at the time of the 2010 General Election and for more recent  editions Click  here for  long term trends in the relative importance of different political issues.

Click here  and scroll down for Ipsos Mori April 2015 Issues Index and Election Special. The latter has good information on Best Party on Key Issues at the time of 2015 General Election and previous General Elections  

 

  1. The 1970s  trends in partisan and class dealignment  were explained partly in terms of the sociological trends [which have been discussed above]  but also in terms of  more individualistic models of voting behaviour known variously as rational voting, judgmental voting  consumer voting or issue voting models in which it was argued that voters' decisions were now less influenced by social background factors [and especially by social class] and more influenced by individual voters' own assessments of different political parties' policies on issues which they considered to be salient.

  2. Although Butler and Stokes argued that party policy differences on specific political issues exercised only  limited influence on voting behaviour they did nevertheless specify that  if policy differences on political issues were to influence at least some effect on voting behaviour voters must be aware of particular issues, voters must have attitudes or opinions on particular issues, voters must detect  differences between parties on particular issues  and voters must actually convert their preference into actually voting for the party whose views on particular issues approximate to their own.

  3. Furthermore Butler and Stokes were among the first psephologists to distinguish between Spatial Issues and Valence Issues. Spatial issues are those on which political parties  adopt different political positions: [for or against privatisation; for or against increased taxation; for or against increased government spending; for or against greater economic equality; for or against industrial relations legislation sympathetic to the trade unions  and so on]  whereas valence issues are those on which there is a general consensus among political parties and voters in that for example all political parties and all voters are in favour of increased economic efficiency , improved living standards, better health care and reduced crime and on these issues voters are assumed to choose between the political parties on the basis of their assessments of the likely competence of the political parties to achieve these objectives.

  4. Especially important are the voters assessments of the economic competence of the political parties but it is also possible that even if voters approve of a particular party's policies on particular issues they may still doubt the competence of that party to implement its stated policies effectively thereby undermining that party's electoral prospects. It has been argued also that the increased importance of valence issues has increased the importance of political leadership as a determinant of voting behaviour as voters' perceptions of overall party political competence are nowadays said to depend heavily of their relative perceptions of the competence of different party leaders.

    In the era of strong party identification prior to the 1970s it was usually argued that leadership effects on voting behaviour were much weaker than the effects of  party identification. There were very strong correlations between party identification and leadership preferences and where there was no such correlation it was clear that voting decisions were influenced more strongly by voters' party identification than by their leadership preferences. Thus, for example Butler and Stokes calculated that in the 1960s Labour identifiers who preferred the Conservative leader nevertheless voted Labour rather than Conservative in the ratio 2:1 and that Conservative identifiers who preferred the Labour leader still voted Conservative in the ratio 3:1.

    In general elections between 1964 and 2005  it is clear that the party with the most popular leader usually won the general election although there were exceptions as when the Conservatives won in 1970 although Labour leader Harold Wilson was more popular than Ted Heath and in 1979 when Labour leader James Callaghan was more popular than Margaret Thatcher.

    It has been argued more recently that in the era of declining party identification and increasing mass media focus on the political leaders that political leadership is an increasingly important influence on voting behaviour. This may arise especially if party policy differences on spatial salient issues are  relatively small because in these circumstances perceptions of overall governing competence to deliver on valence issues [such as improved living standards, better health care and reduced crime] are  likely to be more significant determinants of voting behaviour and it is the perceived abilities [or otherwise] of the  party leaders [and other significant members of the leadership team] which are crucial to the creation of an image of governing competence.

    Using this line of argument voters relative preference for John Major over Neil Kinnock in 1992 helped to improve the Conservatives' overall ratings for economic competence and thereby helped them to win the 1992 General Election while voters' preferences for Tony Blair over John Major [1997], William Hague [2001 ] and Michael Howard [2205] are considered by many to have been important influences on the General Election results of 1997, 29001 and 2005 although it has also been argued that Blair's declining popularity did cost Labour votes in 2005 although he was at least still more popular than Michael Howard. Nevertheless some controversy still exists: some famous analysts such as Ivor Crewe argued for example that in 2001 the Conservatives lost more because William Hague was unable to offset  the unpopular policies and image of the Conservative Party than because he actually added to Conservative unpopularity. 

    Also, if it should be the case that actual differences in party policies on specific issues are small this will obviously increase the significance of valence issues as voters are more likely to vote on the basis of their assessments of overall governing competence. For this reason valence issues may have been especially significant in the General Elections of 1997 , 2001 and perhaps to a lesser extent in 2005.

  5. Issue voting models focused initially on the importance of spatial issues rather than valence issues. Thus  it was noted first of all that there was declining support among the electorate and also among regular Labour voters for core Labour party policies such as close links with the trades unions, nationalisation and high levels of welfare state spending  and then argued that the victory of the Conservatives in the 1979  General Election could be explained at least partly because the Conservatives were preferred to Labour on several of the most salient issues of the campaign.

  6. However we should not overstate the importance of spatial issues as influences on voting behaviour because even in the 1980s  important criticisms had been made of the issue voting model Firstly was argued both by Heath, Curtice and Jowell and by Dunleavy and Husbands that individual voting decisions might in reality be influenced mainly by social background factors and/or by the broad images and/or the broad ideologies of the political parties and that when asked about their detailed party policy preferences they would simply adjust their policy preferences to conform to their choice of preferred party. Their judgments on party policies derived from their party preferences  decision but  certainly did not explain their party preferences or their voting decisions.  

  7. Secondly  further  criticism of the issue voting model arose in relation to the General Elections of 1983, 1987 and 1992 because it was noted that if voters had indeed voted on the basis of their policy preferences on the most salient issues Labour would actually have achieved far better results than actually occurred in practice .

  8. In relation to these elections it came to be argued that the economy was in fact the most salient issue of all and that the Conservatives won these General Elections partly because they were seen as having the best policies on the economy [a spatial issue] but possibly more importantly because they were seen as most competent to run the economy [a valence issue]. Furthermore it came to be argued that since most voters have insufficient time, interest, time or understanding to follow the minutiae of economic policy their judgments of party competence are likely to be influenced heavily by their perceptions of overall leadership competence which have therefore become much more important determinants of voting behaviour than was believed previously.

  9. Thirdly we may note that in some respects the description of the voting decision-making process in the issue voting model is presented as a progression away from reliance on ingrained, habitual processes of political socialisation [as in the party identification model] towards increasingly judgmental rational individual decision making  However in the dominant ideology model of voting behaviour [to be discussed below] it is suggested that many individual voters can be swayed by the slogans , sound bites and photo-opportunities of apparently charismatic politicians and by the biased coverage of important issues in the mass media  so that , whatever else the voting decision may be, it cannot be described as entirely rational. Further information on the dominant ideology model and on criticisms of it is provided below. In particular critics of the dominant ideology model are likely to argue that voters  easily recognise and discount political biases within the mass media so that rational, judgmental voting is indeed increasingly possible.

These above points lead us to the general conclusion that although partisan dealignment, class dealignment and overall patterns of voting behaviour may to some extent be explained in terms of the issue voting model, [especially when the importance of the distinction between spatial issues and valence issues is recognised] the ongoing importance of long term party identification on the voting behaviour of many voters must still be recognised as must the importance of other models of voting behaviour to be considered below.  

Addition December 2016

In the UK  General Elections of 2010 and  relationships between social class and voting support for the Conservative and Labour Parties were affected by the general decline in support for Labour [in 2010] and by the rise of the SNP and of UKIP in 2015.

Ideologies may be visualised as containing a horizontal spectrum of left -right economic issues and a vertical spectrum of authoritarian-liberal moral issues and the various ideological positions of the political parties in 1983 are illustrated approximately in the following diagram. Thus Labour's ideology in 1983 was left-wing on economic issues and liberal on social and moral issues while the Conservatives' New Right ideology was right-wing on economic issues and authoritarian on social and moral issues. The SDP -Liberal Alliance ideology could be visualised as perhaps slightly left of centre on Left-Right issues and as liberal on moral issues.

[Remember  that the New Right amalgamates neo-Conservatism and neo-Liberalism  whose ideological positions are also shown in the table. Note  also that in the table the Labour Party, the SDP-Liberal Alliance and the Neo-liberals are all located as equally liberal: this is clearly an extreme oversimplification in that different definitions of liberty may be adopted by these groupings and, also, whereas for Neo-liberals the free market economy helps to defend individual liberty for the Labour Party and for the SDP-Liberal Alliance greater state intervention helps to promote individual liberty. ]

     

Authoritarian

     
       

  Neo-

Conservatives

 
         

    Thatcherite New 

Right
             
Left Wing [State intervention in economy]        

 

Right Wing[ Free Market Economy]

 

 

         
 

 

         
 

Labour Party

SDP-Libe

ral Alliance

 

 

            Neo-Liberals

     

Liberal

     

The  development of the ideological model of voting behaviour is associated most especially with Heath, Curtice and Jowell's study "How Britain Votes " [1985] . This is a long, detailed,  complex study but its main elements may be summarised as follows.

  1. Individual voters are socialised to accept particular attitudes and values much as in the party identification model but whereas in the party identification model it tends to be argued that most voters' political preferences lack ideological coherence, Heath , Curtice and Jowell argue that in many cases voters' attitudes and values can be combined to form recognisable ideological positions which exercise a major influence on voting behaviour and indeed a more significant influence on voting behaviour than voters' stated preferred policies on the most salient issues of the campaign.

  2. Most voters vote for the party whose general ideological position is closest to their own general ideological position and on this basis the Conservatives won in 1983 primarily because more voters favoured their general ideological position by comparison with the ideological positions of the Labour Party and the Alliance parties. This does not mean that the Conservatives won because of the growing overall popularity of Thatcherism : they won because Thatcherism was more popular than the decidedly unpopular version of radical social democracy on offer from the Labour Party in 1983.

  3. Meanwhile the SDP-Liberal Alliances ideological position [slightly left of centre on economic issues and liberal on social issues] attracted votes mainly from disaffected former Labour voters.

  4. Voters ideological positions derive to a considerable extent from their social class backgrounds as in the party identification model and changes in the class structure involving the relative growth of the "middle classes" and the relative decline  of the working class explained perhaps as much as 50% of Labour's decline in popularity between 1964 and 1983.

  5.  However Heath, Curtice and Jowell emphasise that they are not offering a purely deterministic model of voting behaviour in which social class position determines ideological values and ideological values determine voting behaviour.

  6. Instead it is perfectly possible that political parties can take actions which will increase or reduce their levels of voter support beyond the levels which would be predicted by the overall shape of the class structure. Thus it is argued that in 1983 Labour's more radical ideological position was especially electorally damaging but so too were voters' perceptions of the Labour Party as poorly led, economically incompetent, disunited and saddled with unpopular policies.

  7. Thus Heath , Curtice and Jowell do not entirely reject the issue voting model : they argue instead that voting behaviour is based mainly on  voters' class related ideological positions but that leadership, economic competence, unity and policies on salient political issues also exercise some influence over voting behaviour.

  8. They themselves state that they are attempting to combine in their model the most useful elements of the party identification and issue voting models. 

In summary, therefore, Heath, Curtice and Jowell saw voters' overall perceptions of parties' general ideological positions as more important than specific party policies  as determinants of voting behaviour and claim that Labour lost in 1983 partly because of the perceived unattractiveness of its ideological position although they also recognise the importance of changes in class structure, of perceptions of the Labour Party as divided and incompetent and indeed of Labour's unpopularity on some spatial issues such as nationalisation and defence. Heath, Curtice and Jowell and other psephologists have recognised also that it is in practice difficult to distinguish clearly between the effects of party ideologies and party policies on voting behaviour because voters to a considerable extent assess parties' ideologies with reference to their current party policies.

In the aftermath of their electoral defeat in 1983 Labour gradually modified several of their key policies which in sum could be perceived as representing a shift toward the Centre-Left in ideological terms although on the basis of a careful study of General Election manifestos Ian Budge argued that although by 1987 Labour had moved toward the Centre-Left it had in fact moved back toward the Left by 1992, a conclusion based upon the proposed high levels of spending on Health and Education in the 1992 General Election Manifesto. However other analysts would argue that the main objective of Neil Kinnock and his supporters was actually to shift the Labour Party further to the Right between 1987 and 1992 and so some psephological controversy may surround this issue. Be that as it may Labour's electoral performance improved only gradually between 1983 and 1992 and many would explain its relatively poor performances in 1987 and 1992 mainly in valence terms: in particular it was still not perceived as competent to manage the economy.

Under the leadership of Tony Blair Labour move decidedly toward the Right on economic issues accepting Conservative privatisations a, its industrial relations legislation which had restricted the powers of trade unions and its taxation changes which had significantly reduced rates of income taxation especially on the higher paid although it did also attempt to differentiate itself from the Conservatives via its proposals to introduce a minimum wage, its New Deal for the unemployed and initiatives such as the Working Families Tax Credit designed to help low paid workers.

This overall ideological strategy surely paid dividends and it may be argued that Labour's changed ideological position attracted many formers Conservative voters. However since Labour also had the most credible leaders, the most popular policies on most spatial issues and was most popular on valence issues involving general political effectiveness it is very difficult to assess the independent effects of Labour's changed ideology on its electoral support in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

It may be, however .that most voters have seen ideological differences between the Labour and Conservative parties as declining between 1997 and 2005 and as declining even further as the Conservative Party has moved toward the Centre under the leadership of David Cameron. This ideological shift may provide electoral benefits for the Conservatives just as Labour's shift to the Centre helped it to win in 1997.

 

The dominant ideology model of voting behaviour may reasonably be seen as one significant element of the more general theory which suggests that the existence of a dominant ideology has a major influence on politically attitudes more generally. Although supporters of the dominant ideology model would not necessarily describe themselves as Marxists it is perhaps fair to say that the principal inspiration for the model is the Marxist notion that " in every epoch the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class" [The German Ideology 1846.]

Thus it is argued that capitalist societies are dominated by a ruling class which is able to maintain its position of economic and political dominance by means of a socialisation process operating via institutions such as the Family, the Church, the Education system, the Political Parties and the Mass Media  which persuades members of disadvantaged , subservient social classes to accept that ruling class control is actually also in the best interests of the subservient classes: that is the  socialisation process under capitalism results in the transmission of a dominant class ideology which creates false class consciousness among disadvantaged social classes preventing their members from recognising that the capitalist system is the fundamental cause  of their disadvantaged situation.

In the dominant ideology model of voting behaviour it is argued that the mass media [and in particular the press] have traditionally been supportive of Conservative political opinion and that mass media influence has persuaded large swathes of working class voters to vote Conservative when in reality it has not been in their interests to do so. Furthermore if and when national newspapers have supported the Labour Party [as in the Blair era] this has been precisely because under the leadership of Tony Blair Labour offered no challenge to the interests of the capitalist class  while more recently the election of Mr. Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader has been presented in some sections of the press as evidence of a dangerous "lurch to the Left" under "RED ED" [ the son of the late Ralph Miliband , a famous Marxist intellectual] whose election was made possible only by the disproportionate influence of trade union leaders.  [Perhaps there is material here for David Mitchell's True or False Game Show! ]

Critics of the dominant ideology model of voting behaviour may argue that Marxist -inspired analyses of the capitalist system are flawed in that it is actually existing modern capitalism that is most likely to guarantee individual liberties and to generate rising living standards for all; that the mass media are far less biased than is implied in the dominant ideology model and that the activities of the mass media can be explained more accurately in terms of pluralist theories ; that the dominant ideology model overstates the persuasive capacities of the mass media and understates the capacities of voters to make up their own minds; and that insofar as there are correlations between newspaper readership and voting behaviour this occurs because voters choose to read  newspapers reflecting their own political opinions not because the newspapers have been able to determine voters' political opinions.

Supporters of the dominant ideology model of voting behaviour argue that even after all of these criticisms are fairly assessed the model does nevertheless make a significant contribution to the overall explanation of voting behaviour.

Click here for some recent information from Democratic Audit on trends in political affiliations of the British press

[Further assessment of the dominant ideology model would require a full discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Marxist theories, of the organisation, activities and effects of the mass media in general and of studies of the actual influences of the mass media on voting behaviour in particular. Doubtless you will be discussing these issues with your teachers!

Individual elections may well be influenced by key political events. Possible examples include the following.

  1. The Winter of Discontent of 1978-9 which may have undermined Labour's electoral prospects in the 1979 General Election.

  2. The Falklands War of 1982 which may have contributed to the increased popularity of the Conservatives during the run in to the 1983 General Election.

  3. The resignation of Mrs. Thatcher and her replacement by John Major in 1990 which improved the Conservatives' electoral prospects in 1992.

  4. The ERM crisis of September 1992 which undermined the Conservatives' reputation for economic competence and contributed to their electoral defeat in 1997 .

  5. The involvement of the UK in the Iraq War from 2003 onwards which in various indirect ways may have adversely affected Labour in the 2005 General Election.

  6. The MPs expenses scandal and the recent economic recession which adversely affected Labour in the General Election of 2010.

  7. The rise and fall of UKIP and the SNP which affected the General Election Results of 2015 and 2017. 

So far it has been argued that voting behaviour is influenced to some extent by sociological variables such as class, gender , ethnicity, age, region and religion as in the party identification model; that it is influenced by voters' assessments of party policies on salient political issues, as in the issue voting model; that sectoral cleavages within social classes exercise an important influence as in the radical model; that mass media influences are significant as in the dominant ideology model which also appears as an element of the radical model; and, in the ideological voting model  that voters are influenced more by broad ideological factors than by specific political policies on salient issues. All of these models contribute importantly  to the overall explanation of voting behaviour.

In the voting context model  it is emphasised that although voting decisions are influenced by all of the factors mentioned above ,they also vary according to the differing nature of elections and the differing circumstances surrounding them. In this model it is emphasised that individuals' votes may vary in different elections because of the different constituency characteristics in different types of election, because individuals may have different objectives in different types of election [registering their ongoing support for their preferred option or voting tactically to prevent the election of the least preferred candidate], because individuals may vote according to different criteria in different types of election and because, nowadays although the First Past the Post electoral system is used for Westminster Elections different electoral systems are used in elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and to the European Parliament and to elect the Mayor of London.

Thus, for example let us imagine that a very strong Conservative identifier lives in a very safe Labour local council ward which is part of a marginal Liberal Democrat -Labour Parliamentary constituency within a  marginal Conservative-Liberal Democrat European constituency. In such circumstances one can easily imagine that this strong Conservative identifier might abstain in the local council election, vote Liberal Democrat in the Parliamentary election and vote Conservative in the European election whereas another strong Conservative strong identifier might chose to vote Conservative even if it results in the election of a least preferred candidate. Furthermore if at some point in the future local and parliamentary elections are carried out under some form of PR this too would encourage strong identifiers with all parties to vote for their preferred party.

Voters may also vote according to different criteria in different types of election. In local council elections some voters are more likely to vote for particular candidates rather than for particular parties and on the basis of local rather than national issues which may mean that they vote for different parties in local and national elections. Alternatively their vote in local elections may be influenced by national considerations and they may wish to register a protest vote against "their" party's current performance in government even though they have every intention of continuing to support "their " party in the future general election.

The precise political circumstances surrounding by -elections may similarly influence voting behaviour in unexpected directions. Assume that there are 3 Parties : Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat  and that the Labour Party  is currently in national government. Supporters of the Labour Party may wish to exercise a protest vote against it but they  are probably more likely to switch to the Liberal Democrats than to go so far as to vote Conservative. If Conservative identifiers become aware of this rise in Liberal Democrat support some of them too may switch tactically to the Liberal Democrats as the best means of ousting the Labour candidate while other Conservative identifiers may choose to continue to register their support for the Conservative Party even if it results in the election of the Labour Candidate..

Very useful information on the Voting Context Model [and on voting behaviour in general may be found in British Politics in Focus [ R. Bentley, A. Dobson, M. Grant and D. Roberts 2000] and you may also like to discuss the European Elections of 2009 as an example of  elections which were influenced very much by the special political context  in which they were held which derived from the controversies surrounding MPs expenses.

Click here for useful information on Tactical Voting in recent General Elections from the BBC General Election 2010 site.

It is very difficult to estimate the relative importance of the various factors specified in the models described above on voting behaviour. It is likely that strong party identification has declined significantly since the 1970s but that it nevertheless continues to be a major determinant of voting behaviour for the remaining strong identifiers and for a sizeable proportion of weaker identifiers. Other less committed voters are likely to  be influenced in various ways by their perceptions of leadership competence linked to valence issues, by their party policy preferences on specific spatial issues and by their broad ideological preferences.

Furthermore voting decisions may be influenced to some extent by the nature of the mass media coverage of political issues [although controversy surrounds the assessment of the strength of these mass media effects], by random unforeseen political events such as a war, an economic crisis or an expenses scandal and by the voting context of particular elections which may, for example encourage greater tactical voting when the result of the election is expected to be close.

There were significant disputes in the 1980s and 190s around the  measurement of the relationships between social class and voting behaviour but it is now generally agreed that social class is  a less significant now than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. The overall process of so-called class dealignment has been explained in terms of a combination of sociological factors influencing the character of the social classes and political factors of which the growth of issue voting is perhaps the most significant. It is clear also that the electoral fortunes of the major political parties have been influenced by changes in the shape of the overall class structure involving the relative decline in the size of the manual working class and the relative growth of the middle and upper classes which other things equal could be expected to worsen the electoral prospects of the Labour Party.

These social and political trends encouraged the Labour Party especially to reassess its electoral strategy and the next section of this document focuses on the General Elections of 1992 and 1997.

 Click here for IPSOS MORI estimates of the relative importance of Party, Policy and Leadership on Voting Behaviour. This might provoke some discussion!

 

BBC Coverage of the 1992 General Election: Once you reach this page you will see that although it is entitled Politics 97.it nevertheless provided good detailed coverage of the 1992 General Election. The links to the left of this page take you to more 1997 General Election pages  but for more information on the 1992 General Election you can scroll down to the bottom of the pages and follow the links provided. However I have also copied these links immediately below and again in the section on the analysis of the 1992 General Election result!

Click here for Heath, Curtice and Jowell summary article on the 1992 General Election from the Independent

See also:

1992 - Conservatives
1992 - Labour
1992 - Liberal Democrats
1992 - Key Issues
1992 - Key Events
 

  UK General Election Results 1987- 1997 : Percentage Share of Vote and Number of Seats Won

Year

Turnout %

Con : Vote Share        Seats

Lab: Vote Share         Seats

Lib Dem:  Vote Share       Seats

Nat:    Vote Share            Seats

Other:   Vote Share          Seats

1987

75.5

            42.3                    376

            30.8                    229

                    22.6                       22

                1.7                              6

                 2.3                           17

1992

77.7

            41.9                    336

            34.4                    271

                    17.8                       20

                2.3                              7

                 3.0                           17

1997

71.5

            30.7                    165

            43.2                    418

                   16.8                        46

                 2.5                            10

                  6.6                           20

 

Following Labour's landslide General Election defeat of 1983 it was widely believed by Neil Kinnock and his advisers that Labour would be unlikely to regain office in the future with a traditional social democratic electoral strategy combining egalitarian economic and social policies targeted toward its core working class supporters concentrated mainly among trade unionists and council house tenants] with policies designed to appeal to a relatively small Labour-voting section of the middle class more concerned with issues related to disarmament, the environment and gender politics.

Instead because the working class was contracting numerically and because it was believed also that many more affluent workers were increasingly "aspirational" in their values it was seen as necessary to devise an electoral strategy which would reach out to both working class and middle class voters who had not in the past identified with Labour's traditional social democratic values and policies based around high taxation and high government spending  and certainly had not identified with Labour's shift leftward in the early 1980s.

[The measurement of social class presents many theoretical and practical difficulties but in studies of voting behaviour individuals have traditionally been categorised in terms of their occupation by means of the "Social Grade" scheme involving the categories AB, C1, C2 and DE.

Therefore  between 1983 and 1987 Labour had attempted to cultivate a more modern, moderate, managerial image and to modify some of its policies: it had expelled Militant Tendency members from the Labour Party and distanced itself from the so-called "loony left" more generally . However for a variety of reasons the Labour Party was again defeated in 1987 and it was then that Neil Kinnock initiated the so-called Policy review which did lead to significant policy changes in readiness for the 1992 General Election. As  a result of the Policy Review Labour adopted more market friendly economic policies; it discarded its policies  of unilateral nuclear disarmament ; it indicated that Thatcherite industrial relations legislation would be modified but not entirely reversed; and it also scrapped its policies for the nationalisation of the banks although it did still propose to undo some of the privatisations of the Conservative government depending upon the costs involved.

Labour overtook the Conservativesin the opinion polls in late 1989 and given the unpopularity of the Conservatives in the polls , the weakened state of the UK economy, ongoing disunity over Europe and the cabinet reshuffles necessitated by the removal of Sir Geoffrey Howe from the Foreign Office and Nigel Lawson's resignation as Chancellor Mrs. Thatcher's position in government could now be seen as seriously weakened. The Conservatives' position worsened in 1990 as unpopular poll tax bills arrived and precipitated a "poll tax riot" in London and Labour opened up a large opinion poll lead. Michael Heseltine  a major potential rival to Mrs. Thatcher, still claimed that there were no foreseeable circumstances in which he would challenge Mrs. Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party. but further dissension over Europe finally prompted Sir Geoffrey Howe's resignation as Deputy Prime Minister , Mr. Heseltine's challenge to Mrs. Thatcher, her failure to win the necessary 15%+ majority on the first ballot, her resignation, the entry of Mr. Major and Mr. Hurd into the leadership contest, Mr. Major's victory in the second ballot, again without the necessary 15%+ majority and the immediate withdrawal from the 3rd Ballot by Mr. Heseltine and Mr. Hurd.  Mrs. Thatcher had been replaced as Prime Minister by John Major. but from this point Labour's substantial opinion poll lead began to decline.

Between 1990 and 1992 the UK economy experienced a deep economic recession which in principle could have been expected to further reduce the Conservatives' chances of electoral victory especially because Labour's traditional opinion poll leads as the most favoured party on highly salient issues such as Health, Education and Unemployment were also well established . Faced with these difficulties  Conservative strategists decided that their chances of victory would be much improved if they could undermine the credibility of Neil Kinnock as a future Prime Minister, undermine the credibility of Labour's claims that it could manage the economy with competence and present Labour as the party of high public spending, high taxation and high inflation.

By the time  the General Election was called and during the actual election campaign opinion poll data suggested that the most likely outcome was a "Hung Parliament" possibly with Labour as the largest party . However the actual result was to be a great disappointment for Labour as the Conservatives achieved their fourth consecutive General Election victory with an overall parliamentary majority of 21. Although Labour increased its share of the vote by3.6% it did so mainly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and other parties rather than at the expense of the Conservatives whose share of the vote declined by only 0.4%.  Labour had modernised its image; it had discarded some unpopular policies; it had signaled a more business-friendly approach to economic policy and it had still lost  despite the fact that the economy was in deep recession.  Given that political and economic circumstances in 1992 were relatively favourable to Labour the 1992 defeat was seen as a body blow from which it would not be easy  to recover in the future especially because by 1997 the economy could be expected to have recovered and the size of Labour's core vote could be expected to have contracted further. However as former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson had pointed out many years before, " A week in politics is a long time."

Among the factors suggested for Labour’s defeat in 1992 were the following:  

Spatial issues are those on which political parties  adopt different political positions: [for or against privatisation; for or against increased taxation; for or against increased government spending; for or against greater economic equality; for or against industrial relations legislation sympathetic to the trade unions  and so on]  whereas valence issues are those on which there is a general consensus among political parties and voters in that for example all political parties and all voters are in favour of increased economic efficiency , improved living standards, better health care and reduced crime and on these issues voters are assumed to choose between the political parties on the basis of their assessments of the likely competence of the political parties to achieve these objectives. Especially important are the voters assessments of the economic competence of the political parties but it is also possible that even if voters approve of a particular party's policies on particular issues they may still doubt the competence of that party to implement its stated policies effectively thereby undermining that party's electoral prospects. Also, if it should be the case that actual differences in party policies on specific issues are small this will obviously increase the significance of valence issues as voters are more likely to vote on the basis of their assessments of overall governing competence.

As we shall see John Major was widely preferred to Neil Kinnock as a potential Prime Minister; the Conservatives were widely perceived as more competent than Labour to manage the economy and the Conservatives were ahead of Labour on the spatial issue of taxation and government spending. These factors more than offset Labour's spatial advantage on the issues of Health, education and unemployment.   

The new Conservative PM John Major was much more popular with the electorate than was Labour Leader Neil Kinnock. Click here and visit Chart 1 for data on the relative popularity of party political leaders 1992-2005.  Mr. Kinnock had  done much to modernise the image of the Labour Party , to improve party organisation and to introduce policy changes designed to improve  Labour's electoral prospects [although the entire Kinnock strategy was often accepted only grudgingly, if at all by the more radical  Labour Party activists] but he was regarded as a less credible future Prime Minister than John Major partly perhaps because of occasional poor parliamentary performances on important occasions, partly because of earlier political difficulties in the circumstances of the 1984-85 Miners' Strike  but partly also because he was subjected to  ceaseless personal attacks in the pro-Conservative tabloid press.         

One of the most significant  issues affecting voting behaviour is the state of the economy. In 1992 the UK economy was indeed in recession but voters tended to blame the UK recession either on international circumstances over which UK governments have little control or on former Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher who had had left office in November 1990  and once Mrs. Thatcher was replaced as PM by John Major it almost seemed to many voters that there had already been a change of government  [despite the fact that John Major had served briefly as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Mrs. Thatcher's government and was therefore heavily involve in the economic policy making of that government.]

In 1992  the Conservatives were perceived in general terms as more competent than Labour to govern and in particular [as was traditionally the case until the later ERM crisis of September 1992] as better able than Labour to manage the economy. Although the economy has entered recession under the Conservatives it was believed that a Conservative Government led by new PM John Major would best be able to deal with these economic difficulties and that under a Labour Government the future performance of the economy would  worse than under  a re-elected Conservative government.

 

By the 1990s it was increasingly argued by psephologists that voters might assess the relative economic competences of political parties according to 4 interrelated criteria as indicated in the following table. They might assess retrospectively the economic performance of the government; that might attempt to predict prospectively the likely  future economic performances of all parties in government; they might assess economic performance//competence in terms of its individual effects on themselves [egocentric evaluation] or in terms of effects on the economy as a whole [sociotropic evaluation].

    

Alternative Assessments of Economic Competence

 

Egocentric Evaluation

Sociotropic Evaluation

Retrospective Evaluation

   

Prospective Evaluation

   

 

 Even though the economy was performing badly in 1992 voters [see above chart], voters' prospective evaluations of future economic performance favoured the Conservatives. Also some voters were concerned that they personally would be adversely affected by Labour's taxation policies  so that even if unemployment was seen as likely to fall under a future Labour government[ sociotropic evaluation ] this might be offset by a negative egocentric evaluation due to fears about Labour's taxation policies.. Crucial to this kind of analysis was that voters were not influenced only by the actual performance of the economy but more significantly by their expectations of the likely future performance of the economy under different possible governments and on this basis the Conservatives were preferred to Labour.  

 The Conservative party mounted a campaign from the Summer of 1991 onwards suggesting by January 1992 that ultimately Labour's new policy proposals would cost an extra 37 Billion which , according to the Conservatives would mean that all taxpayers would be forced to pay 1000 p.a. more than Labour was claiming. and publicised this figure all around the country in  a new "Labour's Tax Bombshell" poster.

 Labour, of course denied the Conservative claims as fictitious stating instead that their only fixed spending commitments were to increase pensions and child benefits and that all other spending proposals were conditional upon the growth of the economy. Furthermore the increases in pensions and child benefit were to be financed not by general increases in taxation but by an increase in the highest marginal rate of income tax from 40p to 50p in the and the removal of the income ceiling of 20,080 on national insurance contributions as a result of which taxpayers receiving incomes above this figure would now pay an additional 9P in the on all income above 20,080 p.a. The implication  of the two policies combined was high income earners would now pay considerably more in income tax and national insurance contributions combined and that even those on 21,000 p.a. would now pay more in national insurance contributions.

This latter point worried Neil Kinnock because of his belief that the higher NICS might be seen by affluent manual working class voters earning say 16,000- 18,000 p.a. as a discouragement to their aspirations to earn above 21,000p.a. in the future as  a result of which they might be discouraged from voting Labour. There were therefore debates between Smith and Kinnock as to whether the increased NICs might be phased in gradually rather than introduced straightaway and Kinnock actually suggested to journalists that the phasing in option would be chosen without having informed Smith of this decision in advance. It has been suggested that this resulted in presentational difficulties suggesting both that Labour lacked confidence in its own tax proposals and that coordination between Leader Kinnock and Shadow Chancellor Smith was poor. Finally, in any case, when Norman Lamont introduced the lower 20P income tax rate in the 1992 budget , Labour responded with proposed increased tax allowances to benefit the lower paid which were to be financed via the automatic abolition of the NIC ceiling. Although John Smith argued that 80% of voters  would be no worse off under his tax plans and that many low income earners would be considerably better off. However it  came to be argued after the General Election that Labour had been harmed by their proposals to increase taxes and NICS on the rich and comfortably off.

Later the Tories claimed also that the rate of inflation would also raise if Labour were elected: in the terms of another Conservative election poster voters would be hit by Labour's "Double Whammy of higher taxation and higher inflation.

 In the run up to the 1992 General Election Labour had established substantial opinion poll leads as the party with the preferred policies on salient issues such as Health, Education and Unemployment. However it is very likely that because John Major was preferred to Neil Kinnock as a potential prime Minister and because the Conservatives were seen as more competent managers of the economy there may have been doubts among some voters that even if Labour had preferred policies over  a range of issues they might lack the overall governing competence to implement these policies. As mentioned above valence issues may have had a greater influence than spatial issues on many people's voting behaviour.

There have always been Labour politicians who thought that the current First Past the Post [FPTP] electoral system is undemocratic and unfair and support within the Labour Party for electoral reform grew during the 1980s due to the increasing belief that the introduction of Proportional Representation [PR] and the resultant possibility of coalition government between Labour and the Alliance/Liberal Democrats might offer Labour its best chance of ending the long period of Conservative government.

Neil Kinnock recognised the importance of the debate over electoral reform and set up a commission under Raymond Plant [then Politics Professor at Southampton University ]to investigate the case for electoral reform. The commission was not due to report until after the General Election and Neil Kinnock had not stated his own position on PR on the grounds that this might inhibit full frank debate within the Labour Party. However the state of the opinion polls in the run up to the 1992 General election suggested that a Hung Parliament was a strong possibility and ensured that the issue of electoral reform was bound to arise during the campaign and toward the end of the campaign Kinnock announced that he would invite members of the Liberal Democrats to join the Plant Commission as it continued its investigations although he still refused to state his own preference even when pointedly asked to do so in a TV programme chaired by respected TV journalist Sue Lawley for which he was heckled by the audience. which may well have harmed Mr. Kinnock's political image.

Now it was variously suggested  that Kinnock's refusal to answer was an indication of his indecisiveness; that he was offering Liberal Democrat participation on the Plant Commission solely in order to attract Liberal Democrat voters to Labour; and that he was preparing to tamper with aspects of the UK constitution solely to secure political advantage.  By contrast the position of John Major and the Conservatives was clear and unequivocal : the Conservatives supported FPTP and opposed PR ; they would defend the existing constitution and they had no thoughts of coalition with the Liberal Democrats. On  balance the UK voters seemed to prefer the Conservative approach although, once again, their opinions may have been influenced more by their perceptions of the relative competences of Mr. Major and Mr. Kinnock than by their careful consideration of the relative merits of alternative electoral systems!

Perhaps the two most memorable party political broadcasts of the 1992 campaign were Labour's PPB on the Health Service [which came to be known as "Jennifer's Ear"] and John Major's taxi ride around Brixton searching for his humble childhood home ["The Journey"].  Labour also arranged a mass rally of party supporters to take place in Sheffield toward the end of the campaign aiming to focus on the dynamism of the leadership and the hopes and expectations of the party faithful as Labour closed in on electoral victory. It has been widely claimed that the Sheffield Rally harmed Labour seriously in the final stages of the campaign by creating the impression that Labour had already presumed upon the support of many voters who were as yet undecided and that, especially, Neil Kinnock's behaviour prior to beginning his speech were more those of a rock concert impresario than of a possible future prime minister. Years of effort to build up Mr. Kinnock's image of gravitas disappeared in a matter of seconds....allegedly. [To see a video clip of the Sheffield Rally click here and follow the video link on the Right Hand side of the page; you can similarly find a clip of John Major on his soapbox].

Meanwhile the Conservative campaign focused considerably on the personality and character of John Major. There were many meetings with supporters but also, in scenes reminiscent of less choreographed past elections he was seen standing in Luton Town centre on his "soapbox" dealing with angry hecklers  who may themselves to some extent have indirectly dissuaded some voters from voting Labour. Many, [including Neil Kinnock himself] believe that the Sheffield Rally did harm Labour  but it is likely that the result of the General Election was decided by more fundamental issues. Perhaps, as the BBC coverage suggests, if Labour had won the Sheffield Rally would have been remembered for its outpouring of energy and enthusiasm and John Major's soapbox electioneering as eccentric and out of touch with the modern world. Or perhaps not!

The Pro-Conservative Press [and especially the pro-Conservative Tabloids] had supported the longer term Conservative campaign against Labour spending and taxation plans and published especially powerful anti-Labour editorials and articles in the last days of the election campaign itself  which some argue must have contributed to the apparent late swing against the Labour Party which caused the polling organisations to fail to predict the Conservative victory. It is likely that if party identification has declined the mass media can in principle have a stronger influence on voting behaviour but extremely difficult to assess the extent of such influence. An issue for you to research for yourselves.

  •  BBC Coverage of the 1992 General Election: Again! Follow the links below

See also:

1992 - Conservatives
1992 - Labour
1992 - Liberal Democrats
1992 - Key Issues
1992 - Key Events

 

  •  Social Class and Voting Behaviour in 1987 and 1992 [Source : IPSOS MORI ] [My typographical errors to this section have been corrected Feb.2012]

  • Click here for Ipsos Mori Data on UK General Election 1974-2010 and on the General Elections of 2015 and 2017

  Oct 1974 1979 1983 1987 1992 1997 2001 2005
Middle Class [ABC1]                
Conservative

56

59

55

54

54

39

38

37

Labour

19

24

16

18

22

34

34

30

Lib / Alliance / LD

21

15

28

26

21

20

22

26

Con lead

+37

+35

+39

+36

+32

+5

+4

+6

Skilled working class (C2)
Conservative

26

41

40

40

39

27

29

33

Labour

49

41

32

36

40

50

49

40

Lib / Alliance / LD

20

15

26

22

17

16

15

19

Con lead

-23

0

+8

+4

-1

-23

-20

-7

Semi / unskilled working class (DE)
Conservative

22

34

33

30

31

21

24

25

Labour

57

49

41

48

49

59

55

48

Lib / Alliance / LD

16

13

24

20

16

13

13

18

Con lead

-35

-15

-8

-18

-18

-38

-31

-23

 

We may note the following main points in relation to the above table.

  1. Between 1987 and 1992 ABC1  Conservative voting remained unchanged at 54%. ABC1support for Labour increased by 4% from 18% to 22% but at the expense of the Lib Democrats. Labour by 1992 had regained much of its support among ABC1 voters which it had lost between 1979 and 1983.

  2. Between 1987 and 1992 Skilled C2 Conservative support declined by 1% from 40% to 39% . C2 support for Labour increased from 36% to 40% mainly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Again Labour by 1992 had regained much of its support among C2 voters which it had lost between 1979 and 1983.

  3. Between 1987 and 1992  DE  support for the Conservatives actually increased from 30% to 31% .DE support for Labour also increased by 1% while DE support for the Liberal Democrats fell by 4%.

The overall extent of class voting can be measured vis Alford Index statistics, via the extent of absolute class voting and via calculation of odds ratios and it depends also upon the system of class classification adopted. Clearly this presents several problems since the measured extent of change in class based voting varies according to depends upon the measurement method adopted and the system of class classification used.

However  Ivor Crewe has concluded that  that there was a slight increase in class voting in 1992 but that the % of voters voting along class lines was still only 47%: i.e. more voters were not voting in accordance with their social class so that there were more deviant voters than non-deviant voters which explains why the term "deviant voter" , even by the 1980s  came to be used far less often than in the 1950s and 1960s.

An amendment: [Oct 19th 2009] .As mentioned above  I have had some difficulty finding a link to data on trends in class dealignment as measured by the methods mentioned above but you may now  click here and visit slide 31 of a lecture presentation by S. Fisher which has a diagram from Political Choice in Britain 2004. . The Consistency Index referred to in the diagram is  [the percentage of working class voters voting Labour- the percentage of middle  class voters voting Labour] plus  [the percentage of middle class voters voting Conservative -the percentage of working class voters voting Conservative.] This means that the Consistency Index = the Labour Alford Index plus the Conservative Alford Index.  If possible you should also consult Political Choice in Britain [ a very detailed complex study by H. Clarke, D. Sanders, M. Stewart and P. Whiteley  2004], Elections and Voters in Britain [David Denver : Second Edition 2007] and also  Sociology Themes and Perspectives [Haralambos and Holborn].

  • Gender and Voting Behaviour

It is pointed out that although Labour increased their support slightly among men partly at the expense of the Conservatives, both Labour and the Conservatives increased their support among women, in each case at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Labour would have hoped to have improved their support among women more than they actually did. You may  click here for IPSOS MORI data on gender and voting behaviour 1974-2010. which certainly do show that Labour's electoral performance improved more among men than among women between 1987 and 1992. Why, you may ask?

 The 1997 General Election.

By 1992 Labour had still been unable to devise an electoral strategy which would enable them to offset the decline in the size of their potential core support caused by the reduced size and possible changes in the nature of the working class .[There were, however, some social changes which could be expected to improve Labour’s electoral fortunes. Thus, according to Heath, Curtice and Jowell (Can Labour win? 1994), increased numbers of ethnic minority members, increased access to higher education and reduced church attendance could all help Labour but the relative decline in the size of the manual working class was a key factor reducing their prospects and Heath Curtice and Jowell also found evidence of a long term decline in party identification with the Labour Party up to 1992.]

.Following the 1992 Labour defeat, Neil Kinnock resigned to be replaced  as leader by John Smith .Soon after the beginning of John Smith's leadership  the UK was forced out of the ERM which seemed to suggest that the Conservatives' macroeconomic strategy was now in total disarray which undermined the party's reputation for economic competence which enabled  Labour opened up a large opinion poll lead over the Conservatives. It seemed now seemed possible that Labour could win the next election without any significant new policy initiatives and it has been suggested that as a leader who wished to foster party unity Smith would be unwilling to take new initiatives which might endanger party unity. He did however introduce changes to union voting procedures in Labour's parliamentary candidate and leadership elections but the so-called modernising faction within the party whose leaders were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown believed that further changes of party policy would be necessary to take the Labour to victory next time around. John Smith died prematurely in 1994 and was replaced as leader by Tony Blair.

As the statistics at the beginning of the document show Labour secured a massive General  Election victory in 1997 if the result is measured in terms of seats won although in terms of their percentage shares of the vote and of the potential electorate their victory was much less impressive.  Several factors contributed to Labour's "landslide" victory in 1997.

  • Leadership

Following the 1992 Labour defeat, Neil Kinnock resigned to be replaced (briefly) by John Smith whose untimely death was followed by the election of Tony Blair as Labour Party leader. Blair appeared to exude confidence, competence, slightly left of center moderation and modernization. For example closer links would be fostered with industry and there would be constitutional reforms such as devolution and reform of the House of Lords which could be seen as evidence of Blair’s wish to modernize the UK constitution. while strenuous efforts were to be made to distance the Labour Party from aspects of its own history and ideology  all of which were encapsulated in the redefinition of the Labour Party as  "New Labour".

[It would be useful for you to analyse the ideology of New Labour. What are the core components of this ideology? How does New Labour differ from Old Labour? Are the differences between New Labour ad Old Labour overstated or does New Labour represent a significant shift in the direction of neo-liberalism? And what is neo-liberalism? I hope to produce a document on New Labour ideology early in 2010!]

Meanwhile the Conservative Government was affected by allegations of incompetent leadership, for example in relation to the BSE crisis, disunity over Europe, hypocrisy over family values and political sleaze in relation to "Cash for questions". (Neil Hamilton, the Conservative MP for Tatton, was accused of asking parliamentary questions in exchange for money and hospitality at the Paris Ritz hotel owned by Mohammed Al Fayed. and the issue of  Sleaze took up several days at the beginning of the General Election campaign and prevented the Conservatives from opening on a more positive note. Opinion poll data showed Blair to be more highly rated than Major as a potential Prime Minister as indicated in the following diagram taken from the BBC's 1997 General Election coverage.

 

 

  • Salient  Spatial Issues

It has been argued that in the era of  partisan dealignment the relative standings of the political parties on salient issues  will have a greater impact on voting behaviour although it must be remembered that it is difficult to assess the exact impact of political issues on voting behaviour since individuals, stated preferences on political issues may be determined by their party preferences rather than determinants of party preferences. Nevertheless political issues surely help to determine party preferences to some extent and the following data  show that the Labour Party was preferred to the Conservative Party, sometimes by very large margins , on  4 out of the 6 most salient issues of the campaign.

Labour also tried  with some success to challenge the Conservatives on issues such as law and order, the family and support for private enterprise. Blair as shadow Home Secretary had often used the sound bite "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" to signal that Labour would now be tougher on law and order than in the past and although according to these IPSOS MORI statistics the Conservatives were still preferred marginally to Labour on Law and Order the difference was much smaller than at previous general elections.

Political Issue Salience of Issue  Party Popularity Ratings [%] on Salient Issues  among respondents mentioning the issue as salient
Health   One Con 13; Lab 51; Lib Dem 10
Education   Two Con18;  Lab 41: Lib Dem6
Law and Order Three Con32; La30; Lib Dem 6
Unemployment   Four Con12; Lab 50; Lib Dem 5
Pensions   Five Con 18; Lab43; Lib Dem7
Taxation   Six Con41: Lab26; Lib Dem 8

 

  • Salient Valence Issues: The Economy

 In the analysis of political issues psephologists distinguish between spatial issues where political parties take significantly different positions on issues and valence issues which involve objectives on which most people agree but where disagreement is possible as to the capabilities of the different political parties to achieve these stated objectives. For example positional issues include decisions whether to increase or reduce taxation or to opt for unilateral or nuclear disarmament while valence issues relate to the management of the economy where all voters support the objective of raising living standards but may rate differently the capability of different political parties to achieve the desired improvement in living standards.

The Conservatives have traditionally been seen  by the electorate as better managers of the economy and the state of the economy has also traditionally been seen as a major factor influencing the outcome of general elections thereby usually providing the Conservatives with a significant electoral advantage. However the Conservative reputation for economic competence was seriously eroded by the fiasco of UK withdrawal from the ERM in Sept 1992. Even when the economy came out of recession , there was initially little or no improvement in the Conservative reputation for economic competence although its ratings for management of the economy did improve in the course of 1996 only to decline slightly again in 1997.

BBC  Coverage of UK exit from ERM

Meanwhile Labour worked hard to improve its reputation for economic competence mainly by distancing itself from the traditional social democratic "tax and spend image" of the past. Clause Four  of the Labour Party  constitution was re –written removing Labour’s traditional commitment to nationalization; trade unions were told that they could expect "fairness not favours" from a Labour Government and Labour indicated that it recognised the importance of  "business-friendly" as a means of securing economic growth and rising living standards..

In an attempt to further strengthen their reputation for economic competence Labour announced that if elected there were to be no increases in standard and higher rates of income taxation and that spending plans for the first two years of a new Labour Government would be the same as those already announced by Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke. Meanwhile other policies such as the minimum wage and a windfall tax on privatized utilities to finance the Welfare to Work programme were designed to appeal specifically to Labour's working class supporters. The following diagram was taken from the BBC 1997 General Election coverage.

  • Party Images

 In the era of Party Identification it was claimed that voting behaviour was heavily influenced by the overall images of the political parties. In 1997 the Labour Party had the most favourable party image according to several criteria which must have contributed to some extent to its electoral success. IPSOS MORI produces very detailed long term trends upon a range of topics relating to the public images of the political parties. The following data from the IPSOS MORI illustrate the percentages of respondents ranking the Conservative and Labour Parties according to a range of image -related criteria. Clearly the Labour Party was preferred to the Conservative Party according to most issue criteria but it is also noteworthy that both political parties scored poorly when ranked according to some important criteria. 

 
 

April 1997: Respondents perceptions of Conservative and Labour Parties

  Conservative Labour
1 A divided Party  44  12
2 A moderate Party 11  15
3 An extreme Party  11 5
4 A Party which represents all classes 10  31
5 A party which is concerned about people in real need in Britain  8 36
6 A Party which is out of touch with ordinary people  50 7
7 A Party which has sensible policies 10  27
8 A Party which has a good team of leaders  10 31
9 A Party which is too dominated by its leader  10 15
10 A Party which understands the problems facing Britain 5 9
11 A party which will promise anything to win votes 40 31
12 A party which keeps its promises  5 9
 

 

Disunity in the Conservative Party [most especially over Europe] and criticism of his leadership led John Major to organize another Conservative leadership election in 1995 in an attempt to reassert his leadership but this served only to highlight party disunity and just as Labour had been harmed by party disunity in the 1980s so now were the Conservatives in 1997. [Diagram from BBC 1997 General Election coverage]

It was generally agreed that Labour fought a more professional election campaign with Peter Mandelson,  Alistair Campbell and Gordon Brown playing  important roles in management of the mass media and Labour may also have benefited from the decision of the Sun newspaper to support Labour rather than the Conservatives while some other pro-Conservative newspapers tended to moderate their criticisms of Labour not least because they were very critical of John Major's overall leadership of the Conservative Party and in some cases of what they perceived to be his insufficient Euroscepticism.

Labour were helped by tactical voting. There was an overall national swing to Labour of 10.8% but in fact Labour won more seats than would have been predicted by this national swing because of larger swings to Labour in marginal constituencies Notice also that although the Liberal Democrat share of the vote fell form 17.8% to 16.8% between 1992 to 1997 their number of seats won increased from 20 to 46 and part of this increase was clearly due to tactical voting.

Psephologists have pointed to the importance of a long term trend of declining party identification and in particular to declining strong party identification since the 1970s. However many voters do continue to identify with particular political parties and the following data [from IPSOS MORI] indicate that in 1997Labour identification was greater than Conservative identification but also that Labour's share of the vote in the 1997 General Election was 7.2% above its party identification score whereas the Conservatives' share of the vote in 1997 was only 0.7% above its party identification score. Patterns of party identification clearly helped to explain Labour's victory.

 

  General Election 1997 General Election 2001 General Election 2005  
Percentages identifying with the 3 major parties  Con 29  ; Lab 36     Lib Dem 11  [March '97 ]  Con 24;   Lab  4 2    Lib Dem  10 [ May' 01] Con 16   Lab 35    Lib Dem 22 Con 25  Lab 31  Lib Dem 19 [June '08]
Percentages voting for the 3 major parties Con 30.7; Lab 43.2; Lib  Dem 16.8 Con 31.7  Lab 40.7  Lib Dem 18.3 Con 32.3  Lab 35.2  Lib Dem 22.1  

  Click here for recent data comparing  Party Identification in 1984 and 2012 from the British Social Attitudes Survey Link added March 2014

  Oct 1974 1979 1983 1987 1992 1997 20o1 2005
Middle Class [ABC1]                
Conservative

56

59

55

54

54

39

38

37

Labour

19

24

16

18

22

34

34

30

Lib / Alliance / LD

21

15

28

26

21

20

22

26

Con lead

+37

+35

+39

+36

+32

+5

+4

+6

Skilled working class (C2)
Conservative

26

41

40

40

39

27

29

33

Labour

49

41

32

36

40

50

49

40

Lib / Alliance / LD

20

15

26

22

17

16

15

19

Con lead

-23

0

+8

+4

-1

-23

-20

-7

Semi / unskilled working class (DE)
Conservative

22

34

33

30

31

21

24

25

Labour

57

49

41

48

49

59

55

48

Lib / Alliance / LD

16

13

24

20

16

13

13

18

Con lead

-35

-15

-8

-18

-18

-38

-31

-23

The above data indicate that in the General Election of 19997 Labour gained substantial support among all social classes and that the Conservatives lost substantial support from all social classes. Although we cannot calculate overall indices of class voting from these statistics because the data for the working class are split between C2 and DE groupings calculations of Alford indices, absolute class voting and odds ratios all indicate that there was some overall decline in class voting between 1992 and 1997 because switch of  middle class voters from Conservative to Labour was greater the switch of working class voters from Conservative to Labour.

[An Amendment: [Oct 19th 2009]  As already mentioned above I have had some difficulty finding a link to data on trends in class dealignment as measured by the methods mentioned above but you may now  click here and visit slide 31 of a lecture presentation by S. Fisher which has a diagram from Political Choice in Britain 2004. . The Consistency Index referred to in the diagram is  [the percentage of working class voters voting Labour- the percentage of middle  class voters voting Labour] plus  [the percentage of middle class voters voting Conservative -the percentage of working class voters voting Conservative.] This means that the Consistency Index = the Labour Alford Index plus the Conservative Alford Index.  If possible you should also consult Political Choice in Britain [ a very detailed complex study by H. Clarke, D. Sanders, M. Stewart and P. Whiteley  2004], Elections and Voters in Britain [David Denver : Second Edition 2007] and also  Sociology Themes and Perspectives [Haralambos and Holborn]. in relation to the 1992 General Election it will be a useful exercise for you to consult your textbooks for data on overall changes in class voting as measured by the different criteria. ]

  Use the above link at click on the 1997 General Election for cfor IPSOS MORI data on the social characteristics of the voters in the 1997 General Election. It is important to note that Labour's support increased among all social classes, among men, women, the young , the middle aged and the old and in all geographical regions at the 1997 General Election by comparison with 1992.

 

 

The General Elections of 1992 and 1997 Description, Analysis and Explanation

What were the shares of votes of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats in 1992 and 1997?

 

How many parliamentary seats did each party win?

 

How were the General Elections of 1992 and 1997 affected by leadership issues?

 

Distinguish between valence issues and spatial issues?

 

How have psephologists analysed relationships between the state of the economy and voting intentions?

 

Analyse the possible effects of economic factors on the results of the General Elections of 1992 and 1997.

 

Why may party images in 1997 have affected the General Election result?

 

Analyse the possible effects of spatial issues on the results of the General Elections of 1992 and 1997.

 

What do you understand by the term "New Labour"?

 

Did the "New Labour" ideology help :Labour to win the 1997 General Election?

 

How did relationships between social class and voting behaviour change between the 1992 and 1997 General Elections?

 

How might developments in the mass media have affected the results of the 1992 and 1997 General Elections?

 

 

  • Other Documents on Voting Behaviour

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