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The Undoing of Winston Churchill: Mobilization and Conversion in the 1945 Realignment of British Voters

Abstract

We explore the reasons for the unexpected defeat of Winston Churchill's Conservatives by Labour in the British general election of 1945. Was the outcome a result of Churchill's election campaign errors, as many have supposed, or did the coming-of-age of a new political generation make it a foregone conclusion? Much controversy in the partisanship literature centres on whether electoral realignments result primarily from conversion of existing voters or from mobilization of previously non-voting individuals. In particular, the 1930s US realignment has been the focus of considerable debate. In this article we shed new light on realignment processes by examining the 1945 British realignment that brought the Labour party to power. We find that, in this more straightforward case, the critical impetus came from new voters rather than from converts. Our findings raise questions that need to be confronted in the analysis of other realignments, such as that accompanying the American New Deal. They also shed new light on a much-interpreted episode in British electoral history.

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David Butler and Donald Stokes , Political Change in Britain, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1974), pp. 172–92.

Robert Erikson and Kent Tedin , ‘The 1928–1936 Realignment: The Case for the Conversion Hypothesis’, American Political Science Review, 75 (1981), 951–62

J. Campbell , ‘Sources of the New Deal Realignment: The Contributions of Conversions and Mobilization to Partisan Change’, Western Political Quarterly, 38 (1985), 357–76

Robert Erikson and Kent Tedin , ‘Voter Conversion and the New Deal Realignment: A Response to Campbell’, Western Political Quarterly, 39 (1986), 729–32

J. Campbell , ‘Voter Mobilization and the New Deal Realignment: A Rejoinder to Erikson and Tedin’, Western Political Quarterly, 39 (1986), 733–5.

M. Kent Jennings and Richard Niemi , ‘The Transmission of Political Values from Parent to Child’, American Political Science Review, 62 (1968), 169–84

Philip Converse , ‘Of Time and Partisan Stability’, Comparative Political Studies, 2 (1969), 139–71

Carol Cassel , ‘A Test of Converse's Theory of Party Support’, Journal of Politics, 55 (1993), 664–81.

Mark Franklin , Electoral Change: Responses to Evolving Social and Attitudinal Structures in Western Countries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

H. Reiter , ‘The Perils of Partisan Recall’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 44 (1980), 385–8, p. 388).

R. Niemi , R. Katz and D. Newman , ‘Reconstructing Past Partisanship: The Failure of the Party Identification Recall’, American Journal of Political Science, 24 (1980), 633–51.

R. Waldahl and B. Aardal , ‘Can We Trust Recall Data?Scandinavian Political Studies, 5 (1982), 101–16.

H. Himmelweit , M. Biberian and J. Stockdale , ‘Memory for Past Vote: Implications of Study of Bias in Recall’, British Journal of Political Science, 8 (1978), 365–84.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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