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Different models of issue voting in britain


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Issue Voting

Issue Voting

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  • 1. 1 Different Models of ‘Issue Voting’: How these Models explain the Outcome of Recent Elections Anurag Gangal Professor and Head Department of Political Science University of Jammu, Jammu Jammu and Kashmir, India The era of issue voting behaviour is almost entirely a function of voter’s social location i.e. class, religion, etc socialisation experience or sociological attachments i.e. party identification and political parties public policies and election manifesto in the interest of general public have become almost obsolete in the present age of knowledge information technology and globalisation. The study of different models of issue voting helps understanding the reality of elections in Britain. Butler and Stokes Michigan Model of issue voting and other models such as those of ‘policy voting’, ‘consumer voting’, ‘ instrumental voting’, ‘ investment voting’, ‘retrospective voting’, ‘rational choice voting’, ‘ position voting’, ‘valence voting’ and Clarke et al Proximity Model are the most noted Models in the context of Issue voting and rational choice response voting.1 It is important to note that the Michigan Model was more relevant in British elections mainly up to 1950s or 1960s. After that, the age of issue voting continued up to 1970s or may be up to 1980s. Since then the trade – offs or decision-rules model is more in vogue during elections. The ‘Issue Voting Model’ and Clarke’s proximity Model are also referred to as ‘Spatial Model’. This is because the voter and the parties: can be seen as occupying a space on a continuum running from, say, ‘strongly against’ to ‘strongly in favour’ with respect to a particular position. It is a spatial pressure of political issues that underlies the frequently heard references to the ‘centre ground’ of British politics.2 Despite relatively exhaustive variety of earlier and current Models of issue voting available for our studies, the generally unpredictable nature of voting behaviour of vast 1 Clarke, H.D., D.Sanders, M.C.Esteward and P.Whitely, political choice in Britain, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004. 2 Denver, D.T, elections and voters in Britain, Palgrave Macmillian: Michigan 2007 pp. 94-124
  • 2. 2 populations cannot be fully brought within the fold of any particular type of Model. There can be numerous examples of voting behaviour seldom included or studied under the purview of diversified models of issue voting, yet these models certainly highlight major patterns of voting behaviour through a causal analysis. Hence in spite of inherent limitations of Model building about voting behaviour and patterns, these models certainly help grasp wide diversities and digressions as well as causes behind particular type of voting trend during elections. From among various prevalent models of issue voting, the 2010 general parliament elections in Britain were dominated by Valence issues, position issues and trade-off issues e.g issue of corruption in higher echelons and corridors of power, Iraq and Afghanistan war the incumbency factor and the context of Nick Cleggg’s Electoral Reform issue. The Election results have shown that in recent years the conservative party is going more towards a strong rightist electoral agenda while the labour party is moving towards right of the centre and liberal democratic party is also transforming towards right of the centre. In addition to this, none of the issue voting models are able to grasp the reality of ever increasing disengagement of voters from voting and participation in elections. Therefore, it is apparent that different models of issue voting have their own limitations despite their meaningful contribution to the understanding of voting behaviour during elections.3 Writing on the wall is very clear. Political leaders, though not all of them, are indulging in amassing personal wealth from public exchequer, they are not doing their duty to people, they are not serving the people and the country, political parties largely bother about their votes and not about people and, above all, political leaders are losing their touch with the people of their constituencies. After the elections, they just forget the people in their constituencies. Helena Kennedy, the Chair of the aforesaid Commission, says: The evidence presented to the inquiry suggests that voting itself seems irrelevant to increasing numbers of people and that there is a feeling that there is no choice available to people despite our living in the era when choice is the dominant political mantra.4 3 http://www.political 4 Ibid. “Forewood” of original report. 03948.pdf, pp.4 and 5.
  • 3. 3 It has also been observed that the economic class and social and religious group voting factors have weakened after 1950s in Britain and especially in more recent years.5 In this sense, political disengagement is mainly at the level of going from one individual’s apathy to another individual citizen. This apathy is apparently multiplying very fast. Politics, for thus politically disengaged, is becoming irrelevant as if they think that let imprudent people fight to be in government for it does not matter who forms the government. But the question is if selfish and foolish people are in government then who will rule the country. Will it not be like paving the way to irresponsible governance in Britain ever more year after year? Indeed, different models of issue voting certainly help understand voting behaviour e.g Crewe, Sarlvik and Alt in 1997 observed a marked decline in the strength of party identification and the Michigan Model. Therefore, many electoral analyses in Britain have moved away from Models of issue voting that place primary importance on sociological factors such as location and partisan attachments. Instead they focus more on such voting models which specify the party leader, party images, issue perceptions and assessments of economic performance. In this context the ideology and values are also given more importance. For this purpose, Rose and McAllister of 1990 and Heath et al. of 1991 and 1994 studies have to be seen.6 The Michigan Model of issue voting containing issue orientation and candidate orientation presents studies of British voters having generalized images of the parties that were not without policy content. As such, the labour party is generally perceived as the party of the working class. Similarly, this party is also having its image as working in favour of nationalization and higher welfare spending from the national exchequer. However, when studies were conducted, it was found that there was not very effective relationship between public opinion, voting behaviour and voting choices of the electorate vis-a-vis generalized image about political parties.7 What matters most to voters when they choose their leaders is the performance politics at the heart of contemporary democracy in Britain when voters forming judgements about how well 5 Colomer, Josep M.(Ed) Comparative European Politics, London and New York: Routledge, 2008, p.18 6 Clarke, H.D., D.Sanders, M.C.Esteward and P.Whitely, political choice in Britain, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004, Ch.1, pp.5-6. 7 Denver, D.T, elections and voters in Britain, Palgrave Macmillian: Michigan 2007 pp. 94-95.
  • 4. 4 competing parties and leaders perform on important issues. It is partisan choices and party leaders’ images along with trade-offs electoral choices that decide issue voting. As such the issue agenda of British Politics has changed vastly in recent years especially during the elections of 2001, 2005 and 2010.8 It may be said that the alignment political years in British elections have seen voter’s party alignments or attachments as one of the major reasons for their voting behaviour and voting choice. This is specially so about the Michigan Model. However, in the Clark’s issue Proximity Model, the position issues and the valence issues emerge more clearly in the issue voting patterns in British elections. With the increase in issue voting patterns and behaviour, for Denver, de-alignment of the electorate with political parties are emerging more prominently in the elections in Britain since 2001. Another interesting feature concomitant to de-alignment in British elections is also increase in the disengagement patterns of the British electorate. This aspect creates two particular methodological difficulties in the causal study of elections. It is found: That there is a positive relationship between voters’ policy opinions and their choice of party, then at least two interpretations of this are possible. The first, deriving from the ‘partisan alignment’ model, suggests that voters base their party choice on factors such as their class location or family tradition. Insofar as they have policy opinions, these are formed by following the lead of the party: thus a voter who is a lifelong Labour supporter would tell a survey interviewer that he or she supports Labour policy on taxation, whatever that policy may be...[Another difficulty relates to ]... the problem of ‘decision-rules’ or trade-offs’. A voter might be pro-Conservative on some issues (say, Europe), pro-Labour on others (say, welfare spending), and pro-Liberal Democrat on yet others (reforming the electoral system, perhaps). The difficulty is that we do not know how the issue voter decides which issues are the ones that will determine his or her vote. How does a voter ‘trade-off’ a preference for changing the electoral system against a preference for withdrawing from the European Union.9 8 Clarke,D.Harold, David Sanders, Marianne C.Stewart, Paul F.performance politics and the british voter : Dallas, July 2009, pp. 52-53. 9 Denver, D.T, elections and voters in Britain, Palgrave Macmillian: Michigan 2007 pp. 96-98.
  • 5. 5 The issue voting model suggests that long term influences on voters do not affect their voting choice as much as the policy preferences and stances including short term immediate issues affect their voting choice. There is found a strong correlation between issue positions and party choice being consistent with related interpretations. No doubt there is relationship between opinions and vote. But it is difficult to know about the processes by which this relationship can be explained on the platform of causal analysis. It emerges clearly that when aligned voting is there then conditions of issue voting do not emerge. In other words issue voting relate to the phase of de-alignment. However, during the alignment phase of British elections, voters are known not to have meaningful awareness about the real issues. They only have haziest notion about the nature of issues exercising the interest of MPs, Political journalists Lobby correspondents with little understanding of the language of political debate. As such Butler and Stokes remark that : The simplest evidence about the extent of popular attention to the affairs of government must challenge any image of the elector as an informed spectator. Understanding of policy issues falls away very sharply indeed as we moved outwards from those at the heart of political decision-making to the public at large.10 As regards position issues in the issue voting, certain conditions are needed such as : 1. The voter must be aware of the issue concern. Otherwise, concerned issue cannot affect the voting behaviour of the voter. 2. The voter must have some attitude, view or opinion about the issue. Otherwise, the issue cannot have influence upon the vote of the voter. 3. The voter must understand different policies of different parties on a particular issue especially that issue which interacts him or her e.g. if there is an issue upon which different parties are having similar views then such an issue will not affect the voting behaviour of the voter. The voter must vote for the party whose position on the issue of his interest is closest to his or her own position for opinion. Otherwise, the issue voting will become redundant. Such issue voting Model is also known as Spatial Model. According to Denver: 10 Ibid page 98.
  • 6. 6 ...then voting in the era of alignment can fairly be described as virtually ‘issueless’. Voters were as likely to change their policy preferences to fit their party as they were to change their party to fit their policy position. There was, of course, some issue content in voting decisions and some electors were, no doubt, fully-fledged issue voters. But using the criteria suggested by Butler and Stokes, issue voting was the exception rather than the rule. To that extent, voting studies were justified in emphasizing the social and psychological bases of voting behaviour..11 During 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections as well as in 2010 elections there also emerged salience issues along with preferred party policies. In this matter labour party has been having salience issues of health, education and unemployment. Therefore, people preferred labour party for these issues from 28 to 48% of extent. On the other hand, law and order and economic prosperity had been major salience issues of the conservative party. Voters preferred conservative party from 1% to 15% in this context. Liberal Democratic Party on the other hand had during these elections, pensions and taxation as salience issues. From 2% to 35% of voters preferred conservative party on this basis.12 Aligned voting belongs to 1950 and 1960s in British elections. Issue voting is of the decades of 1970s and 1980s. Valence voting, position issues and trade-off issues belong to the present age of 1990s and the 21st century British elections. In the current age elections and the question of ideology or ideology voting and consumer voting, green votes are all converging also in the newly emerging general values in the form of valence issues. A typical example of valence issue is to be seen on the campaign hung signboard on the desk of the communication director of a modern political leader standing in British elections. This signboard on the desk read ‘its the economy, stupid’ this is to remind the political leader on the while that no matter what happened the state of economy and questions of prosperity will win the election because this is a valence issue common to the interest of every electorate and voter. As regard valence issues, two distinct approaches are there namely one focussing on the individual perception and the other on economic and political cycles such as recurring patterns of individual perceptions and secondly the economic cycle of the nation moving from prosperity to recession and vice-versa. 11 Ibid page 99. 12 Ibid page 101. See also Ansolabehere, Stephen & James M. Snyder, Jr., “valence politics and equilibrium in spatial election models”, academic publisher, Netherlands, public choice 103: 327-336, 2000
  • 7. 7 The first approach focuses on the state of the economy at the time of elections. It is almost a psephological law that governments get re-elected in good times but get punished when they have presided over bad times. In the past, governments have tried to manage the economy such that ‘booms’ were timed to coincide with an election, and this usually worked. As Norpoth (1992) puts it, ‘ In the dictionary of political economy, prosperity spells re-election for governing parties at the polls, whereas recession spells defeat.’ Considerable doubt was cast on this simple formulation in the 1992 and 1997 general elections, however. In the run-up to the former the economy was in a severe recession but the Conservative government was re-elected comfortably; for some time before the latter most economic indications were steadily improving, and yet the government was thrashed.13 Harold D Clarke in his political choice in Britain clearly says that this book assesses the extent to which electoral choices are determined by voters’ social locations especially by the class factor. In view of Downs Pioneering individual rationality approach, Harold investigates the extent to which the peoples issue positions and their party affiliations on key issues affect voters’ choices while giving their votes. In this book valence politics models of issue voting are also assessed with the focus on judgements about parties’ electoral choice and leadership images etc.14 Issue voting model based on the sociological account of voting; patterns have been challenged. Crewe, Sarlvik and Alt in 1977 noted a decline in the strength of party identification. Moreover, the current trend towards disengagement of British voters along with continuous structural change in the behaviour of voters has also weakened the basis of models based on class locations and sociological foundations. This aspect is further highlighted by Rebecca V Mortin in her book Methods and Model: a guide to the Empirical analysis of formal models in political science published in 1999 clearly points out yet another discrepancy in models of issue voting. She says that most of these models and their empirical research along with data collection of British election studies Rolling Campaign Panel Survey is based on sincere voters category in two candidate elections but not in elections with more than two candidates. As such these models keep away from studying the strategic voting of a candidate who maximises the voters expected utility given expectations about the likely outcome. On the other hand, sincere voting is 13 Ibid page 108-109. 14 Harold D Clarke, political choice in Britain, Oxford, Oxford University press, 2004, pp. 10-11.
  • 8. 8 voting for a candidate that a voter most prefers regardless of the elections outcome. Therefore, there is a great difference between sincere voting and strategic voting.15 There are already identified a number of models of issue voting and types of voting such as Michigan Model, Issue Voting Model, Salience Model, Valence Model etc. along with different types of voting such as Party Identification Voting, Social Class voting, Issue Voting, Retrospective Voting, Prospective Voting, Exceptional Voting, Disengagement Issue, Radical Voting, Ideological Voting and Non Voting and Trade-offs Voting etc. No doubt all these voting issue Models and types of voting have contributed to understanding political realities of elections in Britain. Despite this aspect of understanding, strategic voters, Non voters and the fake voting in elections is generally not covered under the banner of these Models and different types of voting. There can as well be several thousands of people who may as well not have got them registered as voters despite being British citizens by birth, hence Models and patterns of voting and issue voting as studied by so many researchers and team of scholars cannot be treated as fully exhaustive in their effort though they certainly contribute meaningfully for grasping different mundane aspects of General Elections in Britain. The Michigan Model has its own limitations for it primarily considers rational voting patterns. There is the party Identification Model also which brings forth mainly voters who vote in accordance with their class position. This Model was applicable between 1945 to 1970 when approximately 62% working class voters voted labour party while an average of about 66% of middle class voters voted conservative party. But this party identification is also not a permanent feature in view of shifting nature of the structure of class in society because the working class at a particular given time may as well move on to becoming middle class after a few years. Moreover, the context of alignment and de-alignment and their changing nature also important while studying issue voting Models and it is not just the partisan de-alignment but there is also class de-alignment and alignment. 15 Mortin V Rebdecca, Methods and Model: a guide to the empirical analysis of formal models in political science, Cambridge, Cambridge University press,1999, pp. 177-178. See also Okulska, Urszula and Piotr Cap, perspective in politics and dispose, Philadelphia PA, John Benjamins, Publishing Company, 2010, pp. 238-239. See also, Norris, Pippa and Christopher Wlezin (Eds.), Britain votes 2005, Oxford, oxford university press, 2005, pp. 1-2.
  • 9. 9 As such Issue Voting Model and different types of voting patterns as studied by above mentioned scholars and election study teams are useful for understanding political realities of electoral politics in Britain. They are also useful for making predictions about voting behaviour and trends. But all these models and types of voting patterns are not certainly exhaustive in nature. Moreover, all these completely ignored various types of exceptional patterns of voting behaviour. Does it mean that those individual voters who are exceptional in their thinking about elections and issues, they do not need to be studied?