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Political Representation and its Mechanisms: A Dynamic Left–Right Approach for the United Kingdom, 1976–2006

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 June 2010

Abstract

Some scholars use the ‘dynamic representation’ approach to test how much current policy changes reflect past public preferences. This article tests hypotheses derived from this approach in a left–right context for the United Kingdom from 1976 to 2006. This shows that government policy on the left–right scale shifts as public preferences change (‘rational anticipation’). Secondly, a public with right-wing preferences elects the Conservatives, who pursue right-wing policies in office (‘electoral turnover’). However, popular incumbents are less likely to adjust their policy position to the public. The Westminster system is criticized for its weak link between the rulers and the ruled, but dynamic representation on the left–right scale in the United Kingdom seems to have functioned admirably in this period.

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Research Article
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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References

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52 For a detailed exposition on Wordscores, see Laver, , Benoit, and Garry, , ‘Extracting Policy Positions from Political Texts’Google Scholar.

53 In the example above, the left–right score of ‘business’ would be 0.17(2) + 0.83(7) = 6.15, which as expected lies closer to the score of the Conservative text score than the Labour text.

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56 Laver, , Benoit, and Garry, , ‘Extracting Policy Positions from Political Texts’Google Scholar.

57 On the CMP scale, which runs from −100 on the left to +100 on the right, the respective scores for the Budget Speeches from 1987, 2005 and 1974 are 30.5, −2.9 and −48.5. These scores are identical to the left–right score of the election manifesto of the relevant governing party at that time (Conservative party in 1987 and Labour in 1974 and 2005).

58 Klemmensen, , Hobolt, and Hansen, , ‘Estimating Policy Positions Using Political Texts’Google Scholar.

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60 These eight combinations are 1987–2005–1974, 1987–2005–1975, 1987–1971–1974, 1987–1971–1975, 1983–2005–1974, 1983–2005–1975, 1983–1971–1974, and 1983–1971–1975.

61 In fact, factor analysis of these eight time series results in a one-factor solution with an eigenvalue of 6.93 that explains 87 per cent of the variance. All of the eight reference sets have factor loadings between 0.87 and 0.96. Comparable results are found for Danish government speeches by Klemmensen, Hobolt and Hansen, ‘Estimating Policy Positions Using Political Texts’.

62 The mean score is identical to the one-factor solution (Pearson’s r = 0.994).

63 These four sources of cross-validation are described in detail in Hakhverdian, , ‘Capturing Government Policy on the Left–Right Scale’Google Scholar.

64 The question is formulated as follows: ‘In political matters, people talk about “the Left” and “the Right”. How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?’ The scale runs from 1 on the left to 10 on the right.

65 Huber, John D., ‘Values and Partisanship in Left–Right Orientations: Measuring Ideology’, European Journal of Political Research, 17 (1989), 599621CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 618.

66 For the United Kingdom, the classic statement is Butler, David and Stokes, Donald E., Political Change in Britain, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1974)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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68 Following Stevenson, Randolph T., ‘The Economy and Public Mood: A Fundamental Dynamic of Democratic Politics?’ American Journal of Political Science, 45 (2001), 620633CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Also see Sani, Giacomo and Sartori, Giovanni, ‘Polarization, Fragmentation, and Competition in Western Democracies’, in Hans Daalder and Peter Mair, eds, Western European Party Systems (London: Sage, 1983), pp. 307340Google Scholar. This measure is only consistently available since 1976 (Eurobarometer, 5).

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71 Stimson, James, Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kim, HeeMin and Fording, Richard, ‘Voter Ideology in Western Democracies, 1946–1989’, European Journal of Political Research, 33 (1998), 7397CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kellstedt, Paul, The Mass Media and the Dynamics of American Racial Attitudes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A question on left–right self-placement was included in the 1973 European Community Study, which was the precursor of the Eurobarometer series. The mean value for that year is 5.37, indicating that the opinion time series is distinctively sine-shaped from the early 1970s to the present.

72 Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E., The American Voter (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1960)Google Scholar; Converse, Philip E., ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’, in David E. Apter, ed., Ideology and Discontent (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 206261Google Scholar; Butler, and Stokes, , Political Change in BritainGoogle Scholar.

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74 Pearson’s r equals 0.40, 0.74 and 0.85, respectively for these economic indicators. The ‘Misery Index’ represents the sum of unemployment and inflation and it is used by some as a proxy for the state of the economy. See Franklin, and Wlezien, , ‘The Responsive Public’; Soroka and Wlezien, ‘Opinion-Policy Dynamics’Google Scholar.

75 Wlezien, , ‘The Public as Thermostat’; Franklin and Wlezien, ‘The Responsive Public’; Stevenson, ‘The Economy and Public Mood’Google Scholar; Erikson, Robert S., Michael B. MacKuen and James A. Stimson, The Macro Polity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Soroka, and Wlezien, , ‘Opinion–Policy Dynamics’Google Scholar.

76 Soroka, and Wlezien, , ‘Opinion–Policy Dynamics’, p. 666Google Scholar.

77 E.g., Evans, Geoffrey, Heath, Anthony F. and Lalljee, Mansur, ‘Measuring Left–Right and Libertarian–Authoritarian Values in the British Electorate’, British Journal of Sociology, 47 (1996), 93112CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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79 See Stimson, , MacKuen, and Erikson, , ‘Dynamic Representation’, p. 546Google Scholar. In the bivariate case, x ‘Granger causes’ y if past values of x contain information that helps predict y above and beyond the information contained in past values of y alone. For present purposes, lagged opinion adds to predicting policy, while the reverse does not hold. These results are available upon request.

80 Stimson, , MacKuen, and Erikson, , ‘Dynamic Representation’Google Scholar; Smith, , ‘Public Opinion, Elections and Representation within a Market Economy: Does the Structural Power of Business Undermine Popular Sovereignty?’, American Journal of Political Science, 46 (1999), 842863CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wlezien, Christopher, ‘Patterns of Representation: Dynamics of Public Preferences and Policy’, Journal of Politics, 66 (2004), 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Soroka, and Wlezien, , ‘Opinion–Policy Dynamics’; Hobolt and Klemmensen, ‘Government Responsiveness and Political Competition in Comparative Perspective’Google Scholar.

81 Assuming, of course, that the first stage of electoral turnover is met (the coincidence of right-wing mood and Conservative election victories).

82 Hobolt, and Klemmensen, , ‘Government Responsiveness and Political Competition in Comparative Perspective’Google Scholar (data are taken from the Gallup Poll (pre-1980) and Ipsos-MORI). These polls have monthly data on party support, so an annual mean is a more reliable measure than one item from the Eurobarometer.

83 A similar logic concerning American presidential responsiveness is used by Hicks, Alexander, ‘Elections, Keynes, Bureaucracy and Class: Explaining U.S. Budget Deficits, 1961–1978’, American Sociological Review, 49 (1984), 165182CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hibbs, Douglas A. Jr, The American Political Economy: Macroeconomics and Electoral Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987)Google Scholar.

84 See Hendry, David F., Dynamic Econometrics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; DeBoef, Suzanna and Keele, Luke, ‘Taking Time Seriously’, American Journal of Political Science, 52 (2008), 184200Google Scholar.

85 DeBoef, and Keele, , ‘Taking Time Seriously’, p. 185Google Scholar.

86 Similar post-war policy trends for Anglo-Saxon democracies are found by Budge, Ian and McDonald, Michael D., ‘Election and Party System Effects on Political Representation: Bringing Time into a Comparative Perspective’, Electoral Studies, 26 (2007), 168179CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87 Budge, and McDonald, , ‘Election and Party System Effects on Political Representation’, p. 171Google Scholar, fn. 1.

88 Budge, and McDonald, , ‘Election and Party System Effects on Political Representation’, p. 171Google Scholar, fn. 1.

89 These results are not reported here, because differencing has serious disadvantages. Most notably, it becomes impossible to identify long-term dynamic effects.

90 Hailsham, Lord, Elective Dictatorship (London: BBC, 1976)Google Scholar.

91 A skeletal model was estimated with Conservative party seat share as the dependent variable and left–right self-placement as the independent variable, while controlling for party identification. This design has obvious limits, not least because we only have seven points of observation, but the results confirm the link between macro-level public preferences and election outcomes. Similar results are found with vote shares on the left-hand side of the equation and whether or not public preferences are lagged one year. Election results were acquired from Rallings, Colin and Thrasher, Michael, British Electoral Facts, 1832–2006 (Aldershot, Surrey: Ashgate, 2006)Google Scholar. The party identification data were taken from the British Election Studies. Conservative Seat Sharet = 159.3 + 0.6 Macropartisanshipt + 33.6 Public Preferencest. All coefficients are statistically significant and the adjusted R 2 = 0.92. As the public moves to the right with one standard deviation, the Conservative party’s share of seats increases by 0.30 × 33.6 = 10.1. The size of the House of Commons fluctuates around 640 seats, and therefore 10 per cent is roughly equal to 60 seats.

92 Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William R. and Golder, Matt, ‘Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses’, Political Analysis, 14 (2006), 6382CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

93 Some have argued that the relationship between policy responsiveness and popularity is Λ-shaped, or non-monotonic, see Canes-Wrone, Brandice and Shotts, Kenneth W., ‘The Conditional Nature of Presidential Responsiveness to Public Opinion’, American Journal of Political Science, 48 (2004), 690706CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In other words, both highly popular and unpopular governments are said to reduce the likelihood of responsiveness. However, using the present data, no evidence of non-linearity of the conditional effect of opinion on policy is found.

94 E.g., Lijphart, , Patterns of Democracy; G. Bingham Powell, Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

95 Andersen, Christopher, ‘The Dynamics of Public Support for Coalition Governments’, Comparative Political Studies, 28 (1995), 350383CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97 Downs, , An Economic Theory of Democracy, p. 237Google Scholar.

98 Dahl, Robert A., Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961), p. 1Google Scholar.

99 Bartels, Larry, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008)Google Scholar; Gilens, Martin, ‘Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 69 (2005), 778796CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

100 Manza, and Cook, , ‘A Democratic Polity?’ p. 658Google Scholar.

101 Powell, , Elections as Instruments of Democracy; Soroka and Wlezien, ‘Degrees of Democracy’; Hobolt and Klemmensen, ‘Government Responsiveness and Political Competition in Comparative Perspective’Google Scholar.

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