This article provides an empirical analysis of voting behaviour in the second ballot of the 1990 Conservative leadership contest that resulted in John Major becoming party leader and prime minister. Seven hypotheses of voting behaviour are generated from the extant literature relating voting to socio-economic variables (occupational and educational background), political variables (parliamentary experience, career status, age and electoral marginality) and ideological variables (drawn from survey data on MPs' positions on economic, European and moral issues). These hypotheses are tested using data on voting intentions gathered from published lists of MPs' declarations, interviews with each of the leadership campaign teams, and correspondence with MPs. Bivariate relationships are presented, followed by logistic regression analysis to isolate the unique impact that each variable had on voting. This shows that educational background, parliamentary experience and (especially) attitudes to Europe were the key factors determining voting. The importance of Europe in the contest is particularly instructive: the severe problems for Major's leadership which were caused by the issue can be attributed to, and understood in the context of, the 1990 contest in which he became leader.
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