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Economic Voting in Britain, 1857-1914


  • Robert Hodgson

    (Department of Economics, University of Exeter)

  • John Maloney

    (Department of Economics, University of Exeter)


Despite limited government control over the pre-1914 economy, opposition politicians were enthusiastic in blaming bad economic news on the incumbent. In a study of 458 by-elections between 1857 and 1914, we find that voters typically gave new governments a 'honeymoon' but thereafter held them responsible for high unemployment and high prices. Each 1% rise in the price level, on average, brought about a 0.21% swing against the government of the day, while each one-point rise in the percentage unemployed had double this effect. Attributing shorter- or longer-term memories to voters, as they used the past to determine what constituted unacceptable price and unemployment levels, makes little difference to this result. We also look at grievance asymmetry - the idea that voters give governments more blame for bad outcomes than they give credit for good ones - and find some evidence in its favour.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Hodgson & John Maloney, 2010. "Economic Voting in Britain, 1857-1914," Discussion Papers 1009, Exeter University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:exe:wpaper:1009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Simon Price & David Sanders, 1998. "By-elections, changing fortunes, uncertainty and the mid-term blues," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 95(1), pages 131-148, April.
    2. Irwin, Douglas A, 1994. "The Political Economy of Free Trade: Voting in the British General Election of 1906," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(1), pages 75-108, April.
    3. Nannestad, Peter & Paldam, Martin, 1997. "The grievance asymmetry revisited: A micro study of economic voting in Denmark,1986-1992," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 81-99, February.
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    More about this item


    voting; inflation unemplyment; Britian; elections;

    JEL classification:

    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913


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