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Valence as Macro-Competence: An Analysis of Mood in Party Competence Evaluations in Great Britain

  • Jane Green and Will Jennings
Abstract

There is a discernable mood in macro-level public evaluations of party issue competence. This paper argues that voters use heuristics to transfer issue competence ratings of parties between issues, therefore issue competence ratings move in common. Events, economic shocks and the costs of governing reinforce these shared dynamics. These expectations are analysed using issue competence data in Britain 1950–2008, and using Stimson's dyad ratios algorithm to estimate ‘macro-competence’. Effects on macro-competence are found for events and economic shocks, time in government, leader ratings, economic evaluations and partisanship, but macro-competence also accounts for unique variance in a model of party choice. The article presents an aggregate-level time-series measure to capture the long-term dynamics of ‘valence’.

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1 Petrocik, John R., ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections, with a 1980 Case Study’, American Journal of Political Science, 40 (1996), 825850; Petrocik, John R., Benoit, William L. and Hansen, Glenn J., ‘Issue Ownership and Presidential Campaigning, 1952–2000’, Political Science Quarterly, 118 (2003), 4, 599626; Druckman, James N., ‘Priming the Vote: Campaign Effects in a U.S. Senate Election’, Political Psychology, 25 (2004), 4, 577594; Holian, David B., ‘He's Stealing My Issues! Clinton's Crime Rhetoric and the Dynamics of Issue Ownership’, Political Behavior, 26 (2004), 95124; Jacobs, Lawrence R. and Shapiro, Robert Y., ‘Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming’, American Political Science Review, 88 (1994), 527540.

2 Budge, Ian and Farlie, Dennis, Explaining and Predicting Elections: Issue Effects and Party Strategies in Twenty-Three Democracies (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983), p. 226; Budge, Ian, ‘The Internal Analysis of Election Programmes’, in Ian Budge, Derek Hearl and David Robertson, eds., Ideology, Strategy and Party Change: Spatial Analysis of Post-War Election Programmes in 19 Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 1538; Budge, Ian, Hans-Klingemann, Dieter, Volkens, Andrea, Judith Bara and Eric Tannenbaum, eds., Mapping Policy Preferences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Riker, William H., Agenda Formation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), pp. 285; Petrocik, ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections’; Petrocik et al., ‘Issue Ownership and Presidential Campaigning’; Simon, Adam F., The Winning Message: Candidate Behavior, Campaign Discourse, and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Clarke, Harold D.., David Sanders, Stewart, Marianne C. and Whiteley, Paul F., Political Choice in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Clarke, Harold D.., David Sanders, Stewart, Marianne C. and Whiteley, Paul F., Performance Politics and the British Voter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

3 Stokes, Donald, ‘Spatial Models and Party Competition’, American Political Science Review, 57 (1963), 368377; Stokes, Donald, ‘Valence Politics’, in Dennis Kavanagh, ed., Electoral Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 141162.

4 Stimson, James A., Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles, and Swings (Boulder, Col.: Westview, 1991), pp. 6063. The algorithm has been used to generate aggregate estimates of public left–right policy preferences across time in both the United States (Stimson, Public Opinion in America; Stimson, James A., MacKuen, Michael B. and Erikson, Robert S., ‘Dynamic Representation’, American Political Science Review, 89 (1995), 543565; Erikson, Robert S., MacKuen, Michael B. and Stimson, James A., The Macro Polity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)) and in Britain ( Bartle, John, Dellepiane, Sebastian and Stimson, James A., ‘The Moving Centre: Preferences for Government Activity in Britain, 1950–2005’, British Journal of Political Science (2011), 259285), and has been used by a number of other political scientists to construct indices that tap common variance in social and political attitudes (e.g., Durr, Robert H., Gilmour, John B. and Christina Wolbrecht, ‘Explaining Congressional Approval’, American Journal of Political Science, 41 (1997), 175207; Durr, Robert H., Martin, Andrew D. and Christina Wolbrecht, ‘Ideological Divergence and Public Support for the Supreme Court’, American Journal of Political Science, 44 (2000), 768776; Chanley, Virginia A., Thomas Rudolph and Rahn, Wendy M., ‘The Origin and Consequences of Public Trust in Government: A Time Series Analysis’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 64 (2000), 239257; Kellstedt, Paul M., ‘Media Framing and the Dynamics of Racial Policy Preferences’, American Journal of Political Science, 44 (2000), 245260; Keele, Luke J., ‘Macro Measures and Mechanics of Social Capital’, Political Analysis, 13 (2005), 139156; Keele, Luke J., ‘Social Capital and the Dynamics of Trust in Government’, American Journal of Political Science, 51 (2007), 241254; Jennings, Will, ‘The Public Thermostat, Political Responsiveness and Error-Correction: Border Control and Asylum in Britain, 1994–2007’, British Journal of Political Science, 39 (2009), 847870).

5 Budge and Farlie, Explaining and Predicting Elections, p. 226; Budge, ‘The Internal Analysis of Election Programmes’ pp. 15–38; Budge et al., Mapping Policy Preferences; Iyengar, Shanto and Kinder, Donald R., News that Matters: Television and American Opinion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Jacobs and Shapiro, ‘Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming’; Enelow, James M. and Hinich, Melvin J., ‘A New Approach to Voter Uncertainty in the Downsian Spatial Model’, American Journal of Political Science, 25 (1981), 483493; Vavreck, Lynn, The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2009), pp. 1525.

6 Enelow, and Hinich, , ‘A New Approach to Voter Uncertainty in the Downsian Spatial Model’; Vavreck, The Message Matters, p. 19.

7 Budge and Farlie, Explaining and Predicting Elections; Budge, ‘The Internal Analysis of Election Programmes’.

8 Stokes, ‘Spatial Models and Party Competition’; Green, Jane, ‘When Voters and Parties Agree: Valence Issues and Party Competition’, Political Studies, 55 (2007), 629655; Clarke et al., Political Choice in Britain; Clarke et al., Performance Politics and the British Voter, pp. 30–52.

9 Petrocik, ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections’; Petrocik et al., Issue ‘Ownership and Presidential Campaigning’.

10 See Lewis-Beck, Michael S. and Mary Stegmaier, ‘Economic Determinants of Electoral Outcomes’, Annual Review of Political Science, 3 (2000), 183219, for a review.

11 Fiorina, Morris P., Retrospective Voting in American National Elections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981).

12 Aldrich, John H., John Sullivan and Eugene Borgida, ‘Foreign Affairs and Issue Voting: Do Presidential Candidates “Waltz Before A Blind Audience?”’ American Political Science Review, 83 (1989), 123141.

13 Krosnick, Jon A. and Brannon, Laura A., ‘The Impact of the Gulf War on the Ingredients of Presidential Evaluations: Multidimensional Effects of Political Involvement’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 963975.

14 Chanley et al., ‘The Origin and Consequences of Public Trust in Government’.

15 Clarke et al., Political Choice in Britain; Clarke et al., Performance Politics and the British Voter.

16 Popkin, Samuel L., The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Sniderman, Paul, Brody, Richard and Tetlock, Philip, Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Zaller, John, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

17 Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E., The American Voter (New York: Wiley, 1960); also Converse, Philip E., ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’, in D.E. Apter, ed., Ideology and Discontent (London, Ont.: Macmillan, 1964).

18 Fiorina, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections.

19 Tversky, Amon and Kahneman, Daniel, ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases’, Science, 185 (1974), 11241131; Tversky, Amon and Kahneman, Daniel, ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases’ in Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic and Amos Tversky, eds., Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 322.

20 Zaller, John and Feldman, Stanley, ‘A Simple Theory of the Survey Response’, American Journal of Political Science, 36 (1992), 579616, p. 609.

21 Clarke et al., Performance Politics and the British Voter.

22 Jane Green, ‘A Test of Core Vote Theories: The British Conservatives, 1997–2005’, British Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

23 See Ostrom, Charles W. Jr and Smith, Renée M., ‘Error Correction, Attitude Persistence, and Executive Rewards and Punishments: A Behavioral Theory of Presidential Approval’, Political Analysis, 4 (1992), 127183, p. 132.

24 Durr, Robert H., ‘What Moves Policy Sentiment?’ American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 158170; Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M. and Smith, Renée M., ‘The Dynamics of Aggregate Partisanship’, American Political Science Review, 90 (1996), 567580; Wlezien, Christopher, ‘An Essay on “Combined” Time Series Processes’, Electoral Studies, 19 (2000), 7793; Clarke, Harold D. and Matthew Lebo, ‘Fractional (Co)integration and Governing Party Support in Britain’, British Journal of Political Science, 33 (2003), 283301.

25 Petrocik, ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections’.

26 Zaller, John, ‘Information, Values, and Opinion’, American Political Science Review, 85 (1991), 12151237; Zaller, John, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

27 E.g. Carmines, Edward G. and Stimson, James A., Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989).

28 Note that issue transfer could also arise from measurement artefact. Surveys tend to include batteries of issue handling evaluations when they field questions about policy competence, with different issues listed one after the other. We would expect to find considerable contamination in response ( Wilcox, Nathaniel T. and Christopher Wlezien, ‘The Contamination of Responses to Survey Items: Economic Perceptions and Political Judgments’, Political Analysis, 5 (1996), 181213). Given the possibility of order effects, measures of issue handling ratings should draw upon a range of different items and surveys, as undertaken in the article.

29 Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr, The Cycles of American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986). p. 28.

30 Rose, Richard and Mackie, Thomas T., ‘Incumbency in Government: Asset or Liability?’ in Hans Daalder and Peter Mair, eds., Western European Party Systems: Continuity and Change (Beverley Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1983); Paldam, Martin, ‘The Distribution of Election Results and the Two Explanations of the Cost of Ruling’, European Journal of Political Economy, 2 (1986), pp. 524; Sanders, David, ‘The Political Economy of UK Party Support, 1997–2004: Forecasts for the 2005 General Election’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 15 (2005), 4771.

31 Schlesinger, The Cycles of American History; Stimson, Public Opinion in America; Erikson et al., The Macro Polity; Merrill, Samuel III, Grofman, Bernard and Brunell, Thomas L., ‘Cycles in American National Electoral Politics, 1854–2006: Statistical Evidence and an Explanatory Model’, American Political Science Review, 102 (2008), 117.

32 Anderson, Christopher, Blaming the Government: Citizens and the Economy in Five European Democracies (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1995).

33 Campbell et al., The American Voter, p. 556.

34 Downs, Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), pp. 104105.

35 See Miller, Arthur H. and Wattenberg, Martin P., ‘Throwing the Rascals Out: Policy and Performance Evaluations of Presidential Candidates, 1952–1980’, American Political Science Review, 79 (1985), 359372.

36 Kingdon, John W., Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (New York: Harper Collins, 1984), p.153.

37 Stimson, , Public Opinion in America, p. 21; Stimson et al., ‘Dynamic Representation’; Bartle et al., ‘The Moving Centre’.

38 Page, Benjamin I. and Shapiro, Robert Y., The Rational Public (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 285320.

39 Tversky and Kahneman, ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty’, pp. 3–22.

40 Stimson, James A., ‘Public Policy Mood: A Personal Narrative’, Political Methodologist: Newsletter of the Political Methodology Section, American Political Science Association, 12 (2004), 914, p. 12.

41 E.g. Converse, Philip E., ‘Popular Representation and the Distribution of Information’, in John A. Ferejohn and James H. Kuklinski, eds., Information and Democratic Processes (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), p. 382; Erikson et al., The Macro Polity, p. 5; Stimson, James A., ‘The Micro Foundations of Mood’, in James H. Kuklinski, ed., Thinking About Political Pyschology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 253280, at p. 268; Enns, Peter K. and Kellstedt, Paul M., ‘Policy Mood and Political Sophistication: Why Everybody Moves Mood’, British Journal of Political Science, 38 (2008), 433454.

42 Page and Shapiro, The Rational Public, pp. 16–17; Erikson et al., The Macro Polity, p. 6.

43 See Wlezien, ‘An Essay on “Combined” Time Series Processes’.

44 See Petrocik, ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections’; Petrocik et al., ‘Issue Ownership and Presidential Campaigning’; Simon, The Winning Message; Sigelman, Lee and Buell, Emmett H., ‘Avoidance or Engagement? Issue Convergence in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, 1960–2000’, American Journal of Political Science, 48 (2004), 650661; Damore, David F., ‘Issue Convergence in Presidential Campaigns’, Political Behavior, 27 (2005), 7197; Sides, John, ‘The Origins of Campaign Agendas’, British Journal of Political Science, 36 (2006), 407436; Belanger, Eric and Meguid, Bonnie M., ‘Issue Salience, Issue Ownership, and Issue-Based Vote Choice’, Electoral Studies, 27 (2008), 477491; Bellucci, Paolo, ‘Tracing the Cognitive and Effective Roots of “Party Competence”: Italy and Britain, 2001’, Electoral Studies, 25 (2006), 548569; Green-Pedersen, Christoffer, ‘The Growing Importance of Issue Competition: The Changing Nature of Party Competition in Western Europe’, Political Studies, 55 (2007), 607628.

45 See Budge, Ian and Farlie, Dennis J., Voting and Party Competition (London: Wiley, 1977); Budge and Farlie, Explaining and Predicting Elections, p. 226. Budge et al., Strategy and Party Change; Ian Budge, ‘The Internal Analysis of Election Programmes’, pp. 15–38.

46 Stimson, Public Opinion in America, pp. 60–3; and Appendix 1, pp. 133–7; Stimson et al., ‘Dynamic Representation’, p. 548. The earliest recorded question in Britain on the competence of political parties to handle issues, asked by Gallup about housing in 1945, is included in our dataset for historical purposes, but the estimates of macro-competence for the 1945 to 1949 period are excluded due the absence of other poll observations.

47 Stimson, ‘Public Policy Mood’, p. 10.

48 Note that we do not extend the data to the analysis of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government, 2010 onwards, and so the estimates relate to the party in opposition, with the short-lived exception of the Lib-Lab pact in 1977.

49 Some wording of some Gallup and Ipsos-MORI questions included ask the public which party has the ‘best policies’ to deal with a particular issue (e.g., ‘Which party has the best policies on … managing the economy?’). To confirm that these questions are capturing evaluations of competence the macro-competence series is also estimated excluding these questions. For the period from 1977 to 2000, during which there was most overlap of question wordings, pairwise correlations of these alternative measures of macro-competence are strong and significant for all the parties – Labour (0.87***), Conservative (0.79***) and Liberals (0.82***) – capturing the same issue competence.

50 This means that the Conservative mood index is estimated from 2,317 observations, the Labour index from 2,345 observations and the Liberal index from 2,106 observations.

51 Stimson, Public Opinion in America, pp. 60–3.

52 For example, a party may naturally be rated positively on similar public service issues, because performance on one may be mirrored on another, but common variation on issues such as crime and healthcare, or defence and education, would be more indicative of evidence of transfer or the use of competence cues.

53 We also compute an extra category, ‘other’. The categories are substantively meaningful but also need to be sufficiently large, over 50 years, to allow for reliable estimation.

54 Bartle et al., ‘The Moving Centre’.

55 Stimson, Public Opinion in America, see online files.

56 We also checked the substantive meaning of the measure to be confident that macro-competence is capturing valence, not positional policy preferences. We calculated the correlation coefficient of macro-competence with a version of macro-competence that excluded MORI's ‘party with the best policies’ survey items, in case these items were tapping policy preferences and exerting a substantively significant effect. This made little difference, with the two measures correlated above 0.80 in a period when the sample consisted equally of items relating to ‘handling’ and ‘best policies’. We also calculated the correlation coefficient of macro-competence with public policy mood (Bartle et al., ‘The Moving Centre’); a comparable measure of respondent's left-right preferences, and found substantively low correlations with macro-competence.

57 Stimson, , Public Opinion in America, Appendix 1, pp. 133–7.

58 Petrocik, ‘Issue Ownership in Presidential Elections’; Petrocik et al., ‘Issue Ownership and Presidential Campaigning’.

59 See Ostrom and Smith, ‘Error Correction, Attitude Persistence, and Executive Rewards and Punishments’, pp. 131–3.

60 That is: (1 × 0.85 × 0.85 × 0.85 × 0.85 × 0.85).

61 Clarke, Harold D. and Stewart, Marianne C., ‘Economic Evaluations, Prime Ministerial Approval and Governing Party Support: Rival Models Reconsidered’, British Journal of Political Science, 25 (1995), 145170; Clarke, Harold D., Karl Ho and Stewart, Marianne C., ‘Major's Lesser (Not Minor) Effects: Prime Minister Approval and Governing Party Support in Britain since 1979’, Electoral Studies, 19 (2000), 255273; Clarke, Harold D. and Matthew Lebo, ‘Fractional (Co)integration and Governing Party Support in Britain’, British Journal of Political Science, 33 (2003), 283301.

62 This indicates that the effect of an intervention is permanent after time tj, so EVENTj = 0 if t < tj; EVENTj = 1 if ttj.

63 Note that the same inferences are drawn if the second lag of macro-competence is not included, but the diagnostic tests indicate the presence of serial autocorrelation.

64 Clarke et al. , ‘Economic Evaluations, Prime Ministerial Approval and Governing Party Support’, pp. 45–170; Erikson, Robert S. and Christopher Wlezien, ‘Forecasting the Presidential Vote, 1992’, Political Methodologist, 5 (1994), 1011; Erikson, Robert S. and Christopher Wlezien, ‘Of Time and Presidential Election Forecasts’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 29 (1996), 3739; Clarke, Harold D., Stewart, Marianne C. and Paul Whiteley, ‘Tory Trends: Party Identification and Conservative Support Since 1992’, British Journal of Political Science, 26 (1997), 299318; Clarke et al., ‘Major's Lesser (Not Minor) Effects’; Clarke and Lebo, ‘Fractional (Co)integration and Governing Party Support in Britain’; Lebo, Matthew and Norpoth, Helmut, ‘The PM and the Pendulum: Dynamic Forecasting of British Elections’, British Journal of Political Science, 37 (2007), 7187; Lebo, Matthew J. and Everett Young, ‘The Comparative Dynamics of Party Support in Great Britain: Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 19 (2009), 73103.

65 See MacKuen, Michael B., Erikson, Robert S. and Stimson, James A., ‘Peasants or Bankers? The American Electorate and the U.S. Economy’, American Political Science Review, 86 (1992), 597611; Sanders, David., Ward, Hugh, Marsh, David and Fletcher, Tony, ‘Government Popularity and the Falklands War: A Reassessment’, British Journal of Political Science, 17 (1987), 281313; Sanders, David, ‘Economic Performance, Management Competence and the Outcome of the Next General Election’, Political Studies, 44 (1996), 203231; Sanders, David, ‘Conservative Incompetence, Labour Responsibility and the Feelgood Factor: Why the Economy Failed to Save the Conservatives in 1997’, Electoral Studies, 18 (1999), 251270; Clarke and Stewart, ‘Economic Evaluations, Prime Ministerial Approval and Governing Party Support’.

66 Bartels, Larry, ‘Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952–1996’, American Journal of Political Science, 44 (2000), 3550; Bartle et al., ‘The Moving Centre’.

67 Fiorina, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections.

68 There are 865 survey items for Labour (Gallup 1946–2000, N = 539; Ipsos-MORI 1979–2008, N = 326), 846 items for the Conservatives (Gallup 1951–2000, N = 530; Ipsos-MORI 1979–2008, N = 326) and 805 items for the Liberals (Gallup 1957–2000, N = 413; Ipsos-MORI 1979–2008, N = 392).

69 Bartle et al., ‘The Moving Centre’.

70 Sanders et al., ‘Government Popularity and the Falklands War’; Sanders, David, ‘Economic Performance, Management Competence and the Outcome of the Next General Election’, Political Studies, 44 (1996), 203231; Sanders, ‘Conservative Incompetence, Labour Responsibility and the Feelgood Factor’; Sanders, David, ‘The Real Economy and the Perceived Economy in Popularity Functions: How Much Do Voters Need to Know?’ Electoral Studies, 19 (2000), 275294.

71 Sanders, David, ‘The Political Economy of UK Party Support, 1997–2004: Forecasts for the 2005 General Election’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 15 (2005), 4771.

72 Engle, Robert F. and Clive W.J. Granger, ‘Co-integration and Error Correction: Representation, Estimation and Testing’, Econometrica, 55 (1987), 251276.

73 Beck, Nathaniel, ‘Comparing Dynamic Specifications: The Case of Presidential Approval’, Political Analysis, 3 (1991), 5187; De Boef, Suzanna and Keele, Luke, ‘Taking Time Seriously’, American Journal of Political Science, 52 (2008), 184200, pp. 189–90. In this form ECMs are linear re-parameterizations of the ADL models used earlier (see Banerjee, Anindya, Dolado, Juan, Galbraith, J. W. and Hendry, David, Integration, Error Correction, and the Econometric Analysis of Non-Stationary Data (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

74 E.g., Clarke and Stewart, ‘Economic Evaluations, Prime Ministerial Approval and Governing Party Support’, pp. 145–70; Clarke, Harold D.., Stewart, Marianne C. and Whiteley, Paul F., ‘New Models for New Labour: The Political Economy of Labour Party Support, January 1992–April, 1997’, American Political Science Review, 92 (1998), 559575; Clarke et al., ‘Major's Lesser (Not Minor) Effects’. All the ECM models presented in this article were also estimated using the Engle–Granger two-step method which produced similar, if not identical, results. The direction and significance of coefficients were also consistent in models of fractional cointegration estimated using the three-step method (see Clarke and Lebo, ‘Fractional (Co)integration and Governing Party Support in Britain’; Lebo and Norpoth, ‘The PM and the Pendulum’; Lebo and Young, ‘The Comparative Dynamics of Party Support in Great Britain’). Although the effects of error-correction and macro-competence were stronger in the fractional cointegration framework, this also introduced serial autocorrelation into the models. We present the single equation ECMs because our analyses are focused on short-run and long-run effects. Also, the knife-edge problems of tests for stationarity are more severe when dealing with quarterly data, subject to greater persistence than underlying disaggregated data (see Marco Lippi and Lucrezia Reichlin, ‘Trend-Cycle Decompositions and Measures of Persistence: Does Time Aggregation Matter?’ Economic Journal, 101 (1991), 314–23). Over-differencing can introduce a moving average into the estimates but such an approach is not problematic if appropriate diagnostic tests are completed (see Plosser, Charles I. and William, G. Schwert, ‘Estimation of a Non-Invertible Moving Average Process: The Case of Overdifferencing’, Journal of Econometrics, 6 (1977), 199224). The diagnostics and robustness checks conducted indicate that use of the single equation method does not present a threat to inference.

75 The Durbin–Watson d-statistic for each of the models does not indicate the presence of serial autocorrelation, with the value approaching 2 in each case. Further, the Breusch–Godfrey test for serial autocorrelation and Engle's Lagrange multiplier test for the presence of autoregressive conditional heteroscedasticity also generates acceptable values, insignificant at the 95 per cent confidence level.

76 Fiorina, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections.

77 We use overlapping measures of satisfaction with the performance of government. For example, Gallup used to ask, ‘Do you approve or disapprove of the Government's record to date?’, while Ipsos-MORI ask, ‘Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the Government is running the country?’ There are 1,288 survey items concerning government approval (Gallup 1946–2000, N = 519; Ipsos-MORI 1979–2008, N = 332; National Opinion Polls 1962–1991, N = 366; YouGov 2003–2008, N = 71). Note that government approval is not included in the models in Tables 6 and 8, due to overlapping meaning with time in government and the government/opposition dummy. We provide correlations with government approval for substantive interpretation of the correlations.

78 Note that again the Durbin–Watson d-statistic and Breusch–Godfrey test for serial autocorrelation and tests for heteroscedasticity all generate acceptable values.

79 Lebo and Young, ‘The Comparative Dynamics of Party Support in Great Britain’.

80 Sanders et al., ‘Government Popularity and the Falklands War’; Sanders, ‘Economic Performance, Management Competence and the Outcome of the Next General Election’; Sanders, ‘Conservative Incompetence, Labour Responsibility and the Feelgood Factor’.

81 Through further robustness checks it is possible to determine the explanatory power of macro-competence relative to other variables. When macro-competence is dropped from the model of party support a decrease of 5 per cent in the proportion of variance explained (the adjusted R 2) results. The corresponding decrease in the proportion of variance explained is equal to around 2 per cent when macro-partisanship is dropped, 10 per cent when personal economic expectations and its interaction and constituent terms are dropped, and a 15 per cent drop when leader evaluations and lagged party support are dropped. While macro-competence does not account for as much variance as some other variables, it explains a significant proportion.

82 Stimson, Public Opinion in America.

83 Norpoth, Helmut and Buchanan, Bruce, ‘Wanted: The Education President: Issue Trespassing by Political Candidates’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 56 (1992), 8799; Simon, ‘The Winning Message’; Sigelman and Buell, ‘Avoidance or Engagement?’; Sides, ‘The Origins of Campaign Agendas’.

* School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester (email: ). The authors wish to thank John Bartle and David Sanders for sharing data, Jim Stimson for his assistance with the dyad ratios algorithm, and Ian Budge, Mathew Lebo and Michael Lewis-Beck, as well as the anonymous reviewers of this journal, for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this article.

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