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Competition and communication: the development of campaigning in Britain from the Second Reform Act to the First World War

Bronner, Laura (2018) Competition and communication: the development of campaigning in Britain from the Second Reform Act to the First World War. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.n0gus1wcchoa


This thesis traces the development of political competition in Britain by exploring the relationship between politicians and their constituents; in particular, it examines the decisions rank-and-file politicians made when choosing how to run election campaigns. Between the pre-Reform period and the First World War, three major developments changed campaigning. Firstly, campaigning shifted from clientelistic to programmatic. Secondly, competition became polarized along an economic left-right dimension. And thirdly, elections became a venue for holding incumbents accountable by means of retrospective voting. Together, these three changes transformed political competition in Britain. Each of the three papers in this dissertation addresses one of these changes. The first paper shows how the Second Reform Act caused a shift in politicians’ preferences away from clientelistic campaigning. It uses a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the causal impact enfranchisement had on how MPs spoke in the House of Commons, finding that reform increased the extent to which MPs – particularly Liberals – discussed corruption. It argues that this increase raised the salience of corruption so much that previously abstaining or opposing Liberals came around and passed the Ballot Act in 1872. The second and third papers get more directly at the relationship between politicians and constituents by introducing a new dataset of all ‘election addresses’ issued by all parliamentary candidates in the six elections between 1892 and 1910, which provide, for each candidate, a comparable text advertising their political positions and personal qualities. The second paper, joint work with Daniel Ziblatt, uses these manifestos to show how campaigning became concentrated on an economic left-right dimension, and increasingly polarized. It also addresses the long-running debate over whether the rise of Labour doomed the Liberal Party into third place, showing that while Labour did initially stake out a unique programmatic identity, by 1910 the Liberals moved to occupy the same ideological space, positioning themselves as the natural party of progressivism going into World War I. Finally, the third paper shows the rise of retrospective accountability in campaigning. It uses a regression discontinuity design to show that the way candidates appealed to their constituents depended on their position: incumbent candidates’ campaign addresses are more positive than those of challengers, indicating that politicians appeal to their constituents on the basis of their record in government. I show that this effect developed around the turn of the century, and is particularly strong in those constituencies in which the Third Reform Act of 1884 enfranchised more people. Together, the papers capture these three distinct facets of the transformation of campaigning. By using quantitative text analysis to explore parliamentary speeches and campaign manifestos, I am able to examine how rank-and-file politicians spoke about – and to – their constituents, and how this changed. Focusing on rank-and-file politicians rather than party leaders, the thesis shows the importance of the decisions made by backbench politicians in changing how they related to their voters.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Laura Bronner
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Schonhardt-Bailey, Cheryl

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