Issue evolution in Britain: The debate on European Union integration, 1964–2010

Authors


Address for correspondence: Daniel Stevens, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, Treliever Road, Cornwall TR11 2DS, UK. E-mail: D.P.Stevens@exeter.ac.uk

Abstract

While Carmines and Stimson's work on issue evolutions has prompted research showing the dynamics and effects of new party alignments on abortion, religion, gender and cultural issues, this research has all centred on the United States. This article examines issue evolution in Britain. Using evidence on the timing of changes in elite positions from Comparative Manifestos Group data, and survey data on public attitudes to the European Union with a longer historical sweep than heretofore, the article finds strong evidence that the European issue has followed an issue evolution path, though with distinct dynamics contingent on the pace of elite re-positioning. Thus, this article extends the theory of issue evolution to a parliamentary political system and demonstrates the responsiveness of the public to elite cues, while also providing additional insights from a unique case in which elites have staked out distinct positions not once, but twice.

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