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    Why parties fail to learn: electoral defeat, selective perception and British party politics

    Lovenduski, Joni and Norris, P. (2004) Why parties fail to learn: electoral defeat, selective perception and British party politics. Party Politics 10 (1), pp. 85-104. ISSN 1354-0688.

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    Multiple factors can be offered to explain the Labour victory, and Conservative defeat, in the 2001 British general election. Here we pursue an explanation based on the idea that rational vote-seeking politicians may fail to learn from electoral defeat due to selective perception. In Part I we outline the theoretical premises and in Part II consider how this framework can be applied to the context of British elections. Evidence is drawn from the 2001 British Representation Study1 (BRS) involving 1000 parliamentary candidates and MPs. Comparisons are made with the British Election Study (BES). We focus on two measures of ideological change in British politics, namely tax cuts versus spending and European integration versus independence. The evidence is laid out in Part III. The analysis supports three main conclusions: (i) on the key issues of public spending and Europe, Labour politicians remained close to the centre ground of Westminster party politics, along with the Liberal Democrats, with the Nationalist parties further towards the left, while the Conservatives remained on the far right; (ii) as a result of this pattern the Conservatives were the party furthest away from the median British voter; and (iii) one important reason for this pattern was ‘selective perception’, so that more Conservative politicians ‘missed the target’. In concluding, we discuss the reasons for this phenomenon and the broader lessons explaining why parties fail to learn and adapt in the face of repeated massive electoral defeats.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): elections, public opinion, 2001 British election
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 21 Nov 2017 14:52
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:37


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