Critical Dialogue: Affluence, Austerity, and Electoral Change in Britain

Timothy Hellwig, Indiana University, Bloomington

This is the third and last book (at least for now) of a series of studies on British elections authored by the principal investigators of the much-admired British Election Study (BES). In many respects, it builds on its predecessors, Political Choice in Britain (2004) and Performance Politics and the British Voter (2009). In these studies of the 2001 and 2005 elections, respectively, Harold Clarke, David Sanders, Marianne Stewart, and Paul Whiteley consistently argued that valence factors go the furthest in explaining voter decisions in Britain. Unlike more traditional sociological accounts of British elections, which associated political choice with class and demographic factors, or Downsian emphases on parties’ policy offerings, the valence politics model maintains that the most important determinants of voter choice are the nonpositional, nonideological attributes that voters assign to candidates and political parties. These include attributes like leader images, party performance evaluations, and flexible partisan attachments. In attaching an argument to the analyses of data, Political Choice and Performance Politics were more than “election studies” typically construed; rather, these studies contributed to a growing literature in electoral behavior and party politics on the waning effects of social cleavages and growing importance of valence attributes in shaping election outcomes.

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Perspectives on Politics / Volume 14 / Issue 01 / March 2016, pp 196-197 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016