Theme Panel: Electoral Shocks

Electoral Shocks: Understanding the Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World

Are existing theories of electoral choice sufficient? Can they explain the many surprise election outcomes witnessed in recent years? Can we better understand how gradual social and political changes combine with the impacts of major events?

This roundtable discusses insights and cross-national implications arising from the authoritative new study of the 2015 and 2017 British general elections from the British Election Study team, ‘Electoral Shocks: Understanding the Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World’ (Oxford University Press). The book investigates recent British election outcomes and shows how electoral shocks have reshaped British politics: namely, the global financial crisis, the surge in European immigration, a different kind of government at Westminster (the coalition), the Independence Referendum in Scotland, and the Brexit referendum that took place in 2016. Understanding the effects of these shocks is essential to understanding volatility in British elections. It also requires a rethink of theories that focus only on long-term change, short-term dynamics, or the effects of one particular variable at any time. The book also shows how the effects of electoral shocks interact with their broader context: the degree of partisan dealignment in the British electorate and increasing individual-level volatility between British elections.

The book has many implications for understanding elections in a cross-national context. This roundtable brings together leading scholars of elections in America, Canada and Great Britain to discuss whether – and how – a theory of electoral shocks should inform understanding of election outcomes in these countries, to foster cross-national collaboration and research, and to consider new frontiers for understanding elections and electoral choice in an increasingly turbulent world.

Laura Stoker, University of California, Berkeley (Chair)
John H. Aldrich, Duke University (Presenter)
Ted Brader, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Presenter)
Ruth Dassonneville, Universite de Montreal (Presenter)
Edward A. Fieldhouse, University of Manchester (Presenter)
Jane Green, University of Manchester (Presenter)
Richard Johnston, University of British Columbia (Presenter)