Features of Electoral Behaviour at By-Elections

  • Stan Taylor
  • Clive Payne


A by-election is held to select a Member of Parliament when a vacancy has occurred between general elections. It provides an opportunity for the electorate to pass judgement upon a government’s performance, and thus by-election results reflect the translation of opinion changes within the electorate into voting behaviour.2 This chapter attempts to examine a number of propositions about the behaviour of the electorate at a by-election using elementary statistical methods.


General Election Major Party Opposition Party Electoral Change Government Party 
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  1. 2.
    One of Frey and Garbers’s criticisms of the Goodhart and Bhansali attempt to test the ‘rational voter’ model of electoral behaviour is that poll responses did not necessarily reflect voting intentions. The by-election series, of course, are actual votes. See C. A. E. Goodhart and R. J. Bhansali, ‘Political Economy’, Political Studies, xviii (1970) 43–106, CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. And B. Frey and H. Garbers, ‘Politico-Econometrics: On Estimation in Political Economy’, Political Studies, xix (1971) 317.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The source of our data was the invaluable reference books of F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results, 1918–49 and 1950–70 (1969, 1971).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See R. Rose, Governing without Consensus: An Irish Perspective (1971) for the best description of the political and social differences between Britain and Ulster.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    For an attempt to estimate the magnitude of these various sources of electoral change, see D. E. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain (1969) pp. 275–92.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See R. B. McCallum and A. Readman, The British General Election of 1945 (1947); Google Scholar
  7. H. G. Nicholas, The British General Election of 1950 (1951); Google Scholar
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  11. D. E. Butler and A. King, The British General Election of 1964 (1965); Google Scholar
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  13. D. E. Butler and M. Pinto-Duschinsky, The British General Election of 1970 (1971).Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    W. Miller, ‘Measures of Electoral Change Using Aggregate Data’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, series a (General), cxxxv (1972) 123–4.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    A. G. Hawkes, ‘An Approach to the Analysis of Electoral Swing’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, series a (General), cxxxii (1969) 68–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 12.
    A. King, ‘Why All Governments Lose by-elections’, New Society, 21 Mar 1968, pp. 413–16.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    For the first comprehensive statement of these models, see A. Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York, 1967). For a summary of the critique of the Downsian model, Google Scholar
  18. See B. Barry, Sociologists, Economists and Democracy (New York, 1970). For an attempt to overcome the criticisms and still retain the basic precepts of the model, Google Scholar
  19. See Davis, Hinch and Ordeshook, ‘An Expository Development of a Mathematical Model of the Electoral Process’, American Political Science Review, lxiv (1971).Google Scholar

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© Stan Taylor and Clive Payne 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stan Taylor
  • Clive Payne

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