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Performance politics and the British Voter

I n making her decision, Isabella had arrived at the same point as her friend, Annie. Both abandoned Labour in But Annie had made her decision differently.

The youngest daughter of long-time Labour activists who had marched in CND rallies in the s and an erstwhile Labour identifier and party member herself, Annie had been strongly opposed to the Iraq War from the outset. For Annie, like her parents, launching a war was not an acceptable means of conflict resolution. It was immoral to make a pre-emptive military strike that risked the lives of thousands of innocent people.

After demonstrating against the war to no avail, she angrily tore up her Labour membership card and sought an anti-war alternative. Whether the Blair-led Labour government could win the war, let alone secure the peace, was irrelevant. A fter listening to Isabella, Annie thought about voting Liberal Democrat in It was true, as Isabella argued, that Mr Kennedy and his party had been consistent opponents of the war. But, it was equally true that they had no chance of winning. They might capture a few more seats, but that was it. Other anti-war parties like the Greens or Respect were also sure losers.

Voting for them was simply a waste of time. Since there was no viable anti-war party, Annie decided to stay home on election day. Unconvinced that she had a duty to vote regardless of the choices on offer, she wondered whether there might be other ways to make her voice heard on major issues. There surely had to be more to British democracy than just parties and elections.

As Figure 1. In contrast, the Liberal Democrats made gains, moving upward from I n accounting for these changes in party fortunes, we pay particular attention to the way in which the attack on the World Trade Center in September transformed the issue agenda of British politics. Another feature of our analysis involves factors affecting electoral turnout. We explore why some people decided not to cast a ballot, and investigate whether nonvoters are turning to other political activities or abandoning politics altogether. We also place the British findings in comparative perspective by examining patterns of electoral turnout and other forms of political participation in several European democracies.

Our second aim is more ambitious. In Political Choice in Britain Clarke et al. In this book, the theory of valence politics is developed in three main ways. Second, we investigate sources of valence judgments to establish why people conclude that one party rather than another is better able to deliver effective performance on key valence issues.

Third, we argue that valence judgments can help to explain more than just party choice.

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That determination paid off. Labour received its due reward in June with a second landslide election victory. Labour was ahead, but its lead was slim and often within the statistical margin of error. The economy remained healthy, 10 Performance Politics and the British Voter but the mix of salient issues in was very different from what it had been in and To make matters more difficult, Blair was much maligned by friends and foes alike for his insistence that Britain join the United States in what many judged to be an ill-advised military adventure in Iraq.

In the event, Labour emerged victorious, although its extremely mediocre vote share Why and how did this happen? The credit and debit sides of the equation are not especially difficult to assemble. Moreover, this balance had been achieved at the same time as spending on health and education had increased substantially.

Also, although Labour did not receive especially high grades from the electorate as a whole for its stewardship of the health system, education and other public services, among those who gave priority to those issues, the party had a clear edge over its rivals.

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We also demonstrated that partisanship and leader evaluations exert powerful effects on party choice. Figure 1. Labour averaged in the mid-forties, the Conservatives in the mid-twenties, and the Liberal Democrats were just below the teens. Such a large partisan advantage normally, but not invariably, translates into electoral victory Clarke, Kornberg and Scotto, Party leader images were another story. As argued above, leader images matter because voters use them as cues to make decisions about the overall capabilities of parties to govern.

Tony Blair was very popular in He clearly outdistanced his rivals, with an average rating that was almost two points ahead of John Major 6. Although Blair now was well behind Kennedy who averaged 5. During this period, the Conservatives were the only party other than Labour that could realistically hope to form a government.


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The Conservatives were undoubtedly adept at electing leaders who appealed to the party faithful. Indeed, their leadership election rules actively promoted such choices. But the party was clearly unable to choose a leader who could rival Blair in his appeal to the electorate as a whole. His determination to address the global terrorist threat resonated well with a British public that was increasingly concerned with its own security, both at home and abroad.

In subsequent chapters, we estimate models that indicate that the war cost Labour substantial support in In different circumstances, this could have cost Labour the election. Developments in Scotland and Wales constituted an important addendum to the national picture. In deference to nationalist pressures, soon after coming to office in Blair had moved to create a devolved parliament in Scotland and a devolved assembly in Wales.

With members chosen using mixed electoral systems that included proportional representation, these new assemblies witnessed the emergence of more flexible and variegated patterns of party government than those in place at Westminster. Prior to , Scotland and Wales had been regarded as Labour strongholds. The Liberal Democrats were a major beneficiary. Between and , they increased their vote share by six points in Wales and by fully thirteen points in Scotland. Nonetheless, they were important indications of growing vulnerability.

The electorate did not desert Labour en masse in But enough voters withdrew their support to give serious cause for concern. Indeed, within weeks after the election, Blair was obliged to confirm publicly that he would step down as prime minister before the next election. T he scene was set for his replacement, in June , by Gordon Brown, a change designed to give Labour the opportunity to renew itself before confronting the electoral challenge posed by a David Cameron-led Conservative Party.

A classic example of a valence issue is the economy. Economic well-being is fundamental; virtually everyone wants a healthy economy, characterized by a felicitous combination of vigorous, sustainable growth, coupled with low rates of unemployment and inflation. Similarly, the vast majority of people want to live in a safe society — one that is not blighted by crime against individuals or property, or vulnerable to terrorism and other threats to personal and national security. Again, almost everyone wants a broad array of adequately funded, well-functioning public services in areas such as education, health, transport and environmental protection.

The puzzle of the people least likely to vote Tory - BBC News

Valence issues typically dominate the political agendas of Britain and other mature democracies, and such issues are important in emerging democracies as well. Political discourse is dominated by discussion of which party and which leader are best able to deliver policy outcomes consistent with consensually agreed upon goals. Unlike valence issues, in the case of position issues there is widespread disagreement among both voters and parties on the desirability of different policy goals.

For example, for many years the Conservatives differed from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the desirability of cutting taxes, even if this would necessitate cuts in public services. As spatial models have evolved, the ancillary assumptions have been modified in various ways see, for example, Adams et al.

However, the core idea in these models has remained the same: prominent position issues are what matter for the choices made by utility-maximizing voters whose preferences are taken as given. Until recently, most academic theorizing about, and empirical analysis of, the factors affecting electoral choice have tended to emphasize position issues and associated spatial models of party competition. Schofield, Both positional or spatial and valence or performance theories of voting behaviour can be seen as specific cases of a more general utility-maximization model.

If voters assess the delivery probabilities of two different parties as identical, then they will decide between the parties on purely positional grounds.


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  7. If they assess the spatial positions of the two parties as identical, then they will decide between them on purely valence grounds. An important part of our argument is that, empirically, it is the valence part of the calculation that tends to predominate. A secondary aspect of this part of our study concerns the way in which people process political information. Berelson et al. Moreover, many lack coherent ideological frameworks that would help them to make sense of specific political issues and particular events.

    Absent an adequate supply of factual knowledge and the intellectual tools to evaluate it, how can voters possibly make what could be difficult decisions about how best to advance and protect their interests? The use of heuristics means that people can avoid the costs of gathering and processing large amounts of complicated and often contradictory information in order to understand issues and events in a complex and uncertain world Conlisk, ; Lupia and McCubbins, ; Lupia et al. We argue that partisan attachments and leader images are two of the most important heuristics that voters use when making electoral choices.

    We also explore other sources of valence judgments. We demonstrate that all three have powerful effects on the way that people arrive at their valence judgments — their assessments of the competence of rival political parties. We show that, in general, positive experiences, emotions and evaluations are associated with positive judgments about the governing party, and negative experiences, emotions and evaluations are associated with positive judgments about opposition parties.

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    The final aspect of our efforts to extend the theory of valence politics relates to the consequences of valence judgments. However, valence judgments have two other significant consequences. First, following the logic of the utility-maximization model sketched earlier, we hypothesize that valence judgments will influence voter turnout. As observed above, rational voters will abstain when they believe that rival parties are equally likely or unlikely to deliver on their policy goals and the voters are equally close to or distant from the parties in the relevant policy space.

    source link In a world where voters and parties have the same ideal points, estimated delivery probabilities will dominate the turnout decision. This line of reasoning suggests that the explanatory power of valence judgments extends beyond party choice per se. These judgments can help to explain not only why people choose one party Performance politics and the British voter 19 rather than another, but also why some people choose not to vote at all. We incorporate this idea into our empirical analysis by developing a model that views the decision to choose between parties and the decision whether to vote as being part of a single calculation.

    This approach allows both for the possibility that some people will cast a ballot for the party they think is most likely to deliver generally agreed policy outcomes, and for the simultaneous possibility that other people will decide not to cast a ballot because they believe that no party is better placed than any other to deliver those outcomes. The second way in which we explore additional consequences of valence judgments relates to the democratic process more generally. Turnout has fallen in a number of countries, including Britain Wattenberg, , and younger people in particular seem to exhibit lower levels of interest in politics than used to be the case.

    It is possible that these rising levels of disengagement could be related to the perceived inability of conventional democratic politics to deliver the outcomes that people need and want. To the extent that citizens think that none of the established political parties can properly solve the key policy problems that their country faces, their confidence in democratic institutions is weakened and their commitment to the democratic process is reduced.

    We find that several types of valence judgments exert strong effects on these attitudes and dispositions. Put simply, performance matters. In contrast, those who think that none of the parties has much to contribute exhibit low levels of both regime support and civic obligation. The design of the BES, outlined in Figure 1. The first, shown in the top half of the figure, was an in-person, national probability, panel survey.