Economic Voting in Britain, 1857-1914

Paper number: 10/09

Year: 2010

Paper Category: Discussion Paper


Robert Hodgson and John Maloney


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.

Keyword: voting, inflation unemplyment, Britian, elections

JEL classification: N43

Economic Voting in Britain, 1857-1914 Economic Voting in Britain, 1857-1914