Geographical Scale, the ‘Feel-Good Factor’ and Voting at the 1997 General Election in England and Wales

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Abstract

Many analysts associate voting patterns in Great Britain with electors' evaluations of the state of the economy, whereby those who think it has improved recently are likely to vote for the government's return to power, whereas those who think it has worsened are more likely to vote for an opposition party. Most of these studies consider the national economy only, but data derived from the 1997 British Election Study cross–sectional survey show strong relationships between votes and evaluations of recent changes in the electors' (self-defined) home areas. This paper relates those evaluations, and the resultant voting patterns, to the ‘objective circumstances’ in the respondents' home areas, using unemployment rates as an indicator of local economic well-being. Using specially devised data for ‘bespoke neighbourhoods’ around each respondent's home, we show that the probability of a vote against the government was a function of both ‘objective conditions’ and ‘subjective evaluations’, and that there were significant scale effects in this: people apparently reacted to very local variations when making their voting decisions.

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