Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Looking for the party? The effects of partisan change on issue attention in UK Acts of Parliament

  • Shaun Bevan (a1) and Zachary Greene (a2)

Political parties matter for government outcomes. Despite this general finding for political science research, recent work on public policy and agenda-setting has found just the opposite; parties generally do not matter when it comes to explaining government attention. While the common explanation for this finding is that issue attention is different than the location of policy, this explanation has never truly been tested. Through the use of data on nearly 65 years of UK Acts of Parliament, this paper presents a detailed investigation of the effect parties have on issue attention in UK Acts of Parliament. It demonstrates that elections alone do not explain changes in the distribution of policies across issues. Instead, the parties’ organizations, responses to economic conditions, and size of the parliamentary delegation influence the stability of issue attention following a party transition.

Corresponding author
Hide All
AdamsJ. (1999), ‘Policy divergence in multicandidate probabilistic spatial voting’, Public Choice 103: 103122.
AdamsJ.F. and Somer-TopcuZ. (2009), ‘Do parties adjust their policies in response to rival parties’ policy shifts? Spatial theory and the dynamics of party competition in twenty-five democracies’, British Journal of Political Science 39: 825846.
AdamsJ., HauptA.B. and StollH. (2009), ‘What moves parties? The role of public opinion and global economic conditions in Western Europe’, Comparative Political Studies 42(5): 611639.
AlesinaA. and RosenthalH. (1995), Partisan Politics , Divided Government and the Economy , New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
AltJ.E. and LowryR.C. (2000), ‘A dynamic model of state budget outcomes under divided partisan government’, Journal of Politics 62(4): 10351069.
BaumgartnerF., BrouardS. and GrossmanE. (2009), ‘Agenda-setting dynamics in France: revisiting the ‘partisan hypothesis’’, French Politics 7(2): 7595.
BBC News (1979), Thatcher wins Tory landslide’ BBC News, April 5. Retrieved 17 February 2014
BélangerÉ. and MeguidB. (2008), ‘Issue Salience, Issue Ownership, and issue-based Vote Choice’, Electoral Studies 27: 477491.
BevanS., JohnP. and JenningsW. (2011), ‘Keeping party programmes on track: the transmission of the policy agendas of executive speeches to legislative outputs in the United Kingdom’, European Political Science Review 3(3): 395417.
BoydstunA.E., BevanS. and Thomas IIIH.F. (2014), ‘The importance of attention diversity and how to measure it’, Policy Studies Journal 42(2): 173196.
BudgeI. (1993), ‘Issues, dimensions, and agenda change in postwar democracies: longterm trends in party election programs and newspaper reports in twenty-three democracies’, in W. Riker (ed.), Agenda Formation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
BudgeI. and FarlieD. (1983), Explaining and Predicting Elections: Issue Effects and Party Strategies in Twenty-Three Democracies, Boston: George Allen and Unwin.
CareyJ.M. (2009), Legislative Voting and Accountability , New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
CeronA. (2012), ‘Bounded oligarchy: How and when factions constrain leaders in party position-taking’, Electoral Studies 31(4): 689701.
CeronA. (2013), ‘Brave rebels stay home: assessing the effect of intra-party ideological heterogeneity and party whip on roll-call votes’, Party Politics, doi: 10.1177/1354068812472581, 113. Published online January 24.
CoxG. (1987), The Efficient Secret: The Cabinet and the Development of Political Parties in Victorian England, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
CoxG. (2000), ‘On the effects of legislative rules’, Legislative Studies Quarterly 25(2): 169192.
CoxG. and McCubbinsM. (1994), Legislative Leviathan: Party Government in the House, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
CrossW. and BlaisA. (2012), ‘Who selects the party leader?’, Party Politics 18(2): 127150.
DaltonR. (2008), Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies, 5th edn., Washington, DC: CQ Press.
De VriesK. and HoboltS. (2012), ‘When dimensions collide: the electoral success of issue entrepreneurs’, European Union Politics 13: 246268.
DöringH. (2001), ‘Parliamentary agenda control and legislative outcomes in Western Europe’, Legislative Studies Quarterly 26: 145165.
DöringH. (2003), ‘party discipline and government imposition of restrictive rules’, The Journal of Legislative Studies 9 4): 147163.
DownsA. (1957), An Economic Theory of Democracy, New York: Harper.
EganP. (2013), Partisan Priorities: How Issue Ownership Drives and Distorts American Politics, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
GreenJ. and HoboltS. (2008), ‘Owning the issue agenda: party strategies and vote choices in British elections’, Electoral Studies 27: 460476.
GreenJ. and JenningsW. (2012a), The dynamics of issue competence and vote for parties in and out of power: an analysis of valence in Britain, 1979-1997’, European Journal of Political Research 51: 469503.
GreenJ. and JenningsW. (2012b), Valence as macro-competence: an analysis of mood in party competence evaluations in Britain’, British Journal of Political Science 42: 311343.
Green-PedersenC. and KrogstrupJ. (2008), ‘Immigration as a political issue in Denmark and Sweden’, European Journal of Political Research 47(5): 610634.
Green-PedersenC. and MortensenP. (2010), ‘Who Sets the agenda and who responds to it in the Danish parliament? A new model of issue competition and agenda-setting’, European Journal of Political Research 49(2): 257281.
GreeneZachary and HaberM. ( forthcoming), Leadership competition and disagreement at party national congresses’, British Journal of Political Science, available on CJO2014. doi:10.1017/S0007123414000283, pp. 122.
HarmelR. and JandaK. (1994), ‘An integrated theory of party goals and party change’, Journal of Theoretical Politics 6: 259287.
HarmelR. and TanA. (2003), ‘party actors and party change: does factional dominance matter?’, European Journal of Political Research 42(3): 409424.
HibbsD.A. (1977), ‘Political parties and macroeconomic policy’, American Political Science Review 71: 14671487.
HicksA.M. and SwankD.H. (1992), ‘Politics, institutions, and welfare spending in industrialized democracies, 1960-1982’, American Political Science Review 86: 658674.
HuberJ.D. (1992), ‘Restrictive legislative procedures in France and the United States’, The American Political Science Review 86: 675687.
HuberJ.D. (1996), Rationalizing Parliament: Legislative Institutions and Party Politics in France, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
HuberJ.D. and ShipanC. (2002), Deliberate Discretion? The Institutional Foundations of Bureaucratic Autonomy, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
HugS. and SchulzT. (2007), ‘Left–right positions of political parties in Switzerland’, Party Politics 13(3): 305330.
JenningsW., BevanS. and JohnP. (2011a), The British government’s political agenda: the speech from the throne, 1911-2008’, Political Studies 59(1): 7498.
JenningsW., BevanS., TimmermansA., BreemanG., BrouardS., ChaquesL., Green-PedersenC., JohnP., PalauA. and MortensenP.B. (2011b), Effects of the core functions of government on the diversity of executive agendas’, Comparative Political Studies 44(8): 10011030.
JohnP., BevanS. and JenningsW. (2014), ‘Party politics and policy agendas: the case of the United Kingdom’’, in C. Green-Pedersen and S. Walgrave (eds), Agenda-Setting from a Policy Theory to a Theory of Politics, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
KenigO. (2009), ‘Democratization of party leadership selection: do wider selectorates produce more competitive contests?’, Electoral Studies 28(2): 240247.
KitscheltH. (1989), ‘The internal politics of parties: the law of curvilinear disparity revisited’, Political Studies 37(3): 400421.
LaverM. (1999), ‘Divided parties, divided government’, Legislative Studies Quarterly 24: 529.
Lewis-BeckM. and StegmaierM. (2000), ‘Economic determinates of political outcomes’, Annual Review of Political Science 3: 183219.
LipsetS.M. and RokkanS. (1967), Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, Toronto: The Free Press.
MartinL. (2004), ‘The government agenda in parliamentary democracies’, American Journal of Political Science 48(3): 445461.
McAteeA., YackeeS.W. and LoweryD. (2003), ‘Reexamining the dynamic model of divided partisan government’, Journal of Politics 65(2): 477490.
McGuinnessF. (2012), ‘Membership of UK political parties’, House of Commons Library (Standard Note: SN/SG/5125).
MortensenP.B., Green-PedersenC., BreemanG., Chaqués-BonafontL., JenningsW., JohnP., PalauA.M. and TimmermansA. (2011), ‘Comparing government agendas executive speeches in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Denmark’, Comparative Political Studies 44(8): 9731000.
MüllerW. and StrømK. (eds) (2000), Coalition Governments in Western Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
O’BrienD.Z. and ShomerY. (2013), ‘A cross-national analysis of party switching’, Legislative Studies Quarterly 38(1): 111141.
PetrocikJ. (1996), ‘Issue ownership in presidential elections, with a 1980 case study’, American Journal of Political Science 40(3): 825850.
PowellB. and WhittenG. (1993), ‘A cross-national analysis of economic voting: taking account of the political context’, American Journal of Political Science 37(2): 391414.
SchmidtM. (2006), ‘When parties matter: a review of the possibilities and limits of partisan influence on public policy’, European Journal of Political Research 30: 155183.
SchofieldN. and SenedI. (2006), Multiparty Democracy: Elections and Legislative Politics, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
SchumacherG. (2013), ‘When does the left do the right thing? A study of party position change on welfare policies’, Party Politics , doi: 10.1177/1354068812470505, 112.
SchumacherG., de VriesC. and VisB. (2013), ‘Why do parties change position? Party organization and environmental incentives’, Journal of Politics 75(2): 464477.
SeebergH.B. (2013), ‘The opposition’s policy influence through issue politicisation’, Journal of Public Policy 33(1): 89107.
SeydP. and WhiteleyP. (1992), Labour’s Grassroots: The Politics of Party Membership, Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.
SeydP. and WhiteleyP. (2004), ‘British party members an overview’, Party Politics 10(4): 355366.
ShomerY. (2014), ‘What affects candidate selection processes? A cross-national examination’, Party Politics 20(4): 533546.
Somer-TopcuZ. (2009), ‘Timely decisions: the effects of past national elections on party policy change’, Journal of Politics 71: 238248.
SorokaS. and WlezienC. (2010), Degrees of Democracy: Politics, Public Opinion, And Policy, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
SpoonJ.J. (2011), Political Survival of Small Parties in Europe, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
StrømK. (1990), Minority Government and Majority Rule, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
TanA. (1997), ‘Party change and party membership decline: an exploratory analysis’, Party Politics 3: 363377.
TsebelisG. (2002), Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
VliegenthartR. and WalgraveS. (2011), ‘Content matters: the dynamics of parliamentary questioning in Belgium and Denmark’, Comparative Political Studies 44(8): 11311159.
WhittenG. and PalmerH. (1999), ‘Cross-national analysis of economic voting’, Electoral Studies 18: 4967.
WhiteleyP. and SeydP. (2002), High-Intensity Participation : The Dynamics of Party Activism in Britain , Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
WhiteleyP., SeydP., RichardsonJ. and BissellP. (1994), ‘Explaining party activism: the case of the British conservative party’, British Journal of Political Science 24(1): 7994.
WilliamsL., SekiK. and WhittenG. ( forthcoming), ‘You’ve got some explaining to do: the influence of economic conditions and spatial competition on party strategy’, Political Science and Research Methods.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 1755-7739
  • EISSN: 1755-7747
  • URL: /core/journals/european-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 62 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 634 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.