The Surprise Election

By Philip Cowley.

In the early hours of 8 May, during his victory speech at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, David Cameron described the 2015 general election as one where ‘pundits got it wrong, the pollsters got it wrong, the commentators got it wrong’.

It was a fair complaint. A couple of months before, a collection of academic experts had met at the LSE to forecast the result of the election. No matter which model they used, or how they set about crunching the numbers, they all reached the same conclusion: no single party would win enough seats to command a majority in the House of Commons. A similar survey of over 500 academics, journalists, and pollsters in early March came up with the same finding. And the betting markets agreed. Just before the polls closed on 7 May, the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power had odds of 1/25 for a hung parliament, in which no party had an outright majority. A wager of £10 would have paid out just £10.40. Both Labour and the Conservative parties pretended they could win outright, but neither really believed it.

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Austerity and Resistance: Greece in the Eurozone crisis

By Andreas Bieler and Jamie Jordan.

Concerns over Greece’s ability to pay back its debt continue unabated, with one crisis meeting taking place in Brussels after another. While the media focuses on Greece’s ability to meet the conditions by the European Union, in this post we will have another look at some of the key underlying dynamics of the crisis.

It is often argued in the media that citizens of richer countries would now have to pay for the ‘profligacy’ of citizens from indebted countries. Cultural arguments of apparently ‘lazy Greek’ workers as the cause of the crisis are put forward despite the fact that Greek workers are amongst those who work the most hours in Europe (McDonald 2012). Rather than the result of Greeks living above their means, however, the crisis is a reflection of the highly uneven European political economy. While Germany and other countries of the European core have pursued a growth strategy based on exports, countries in the European periphery including Greece followed a strategy of demand-led growth often financed with loans from abroad. Nevertheless, it would be wrong simply to blame the Greeks for this situation. The super profits resulting from German export success needed new points of investment to generate more profits and state bonds of peripheral countries seemed to be the ideal investment opportunity with guaranteed profits, backed by sovereign states. In a way, Germany has recycled its profits in the form of lending to peripheral countries. In turn, these credits to the periphery were used to purchase more goods in the core ensuring a continuation of the German export success. Hence, the recurrent distinction between credit- and export-led economies is misleading. Firms in core countries would not have been able to pursue export-led growth strategies, if global aggregate demand had not been supported by the real estate and stock market bubbles that occurred in the periphery as a result of lending. German export success, in other words, depended on Greece’s increasing indebtedness.

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The UK electoral system now decisively favours the Conservatives

By Tim Smith.

In the wake of the largely unexpected Conservative election victory, it was said that pollsters and political scientists had a lot of explaining to do after so many incorrect forecasts.  However, this author correctly predicted that the Liberal Democrats would do worse than was assumed , and also that the electoral system might well favour the Conservatives for the first time since 1987 which also turned out to be the case.  In this blog piece I will explain what has happened and the consequences for the next election.

At this election the two-party bias (or skew) in the electoral system moved from a pro-Labour bias of 54 seats, to a pro-Conservative bias of 48 seats, meaning that if the two parties had won the same number of votes, the Conservatives would have won 48 more seats than Labour.  The table below shows the decomposition of factors that result in this bias.  These can be obtained algebraically using Brookes’ decomposition method, as adapted by Johnston, Rossiter and Pattie. For a full explanation of the factors please re-read this entry.

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The Opportunities of Sovereign Credit Ratings

By David Gill

Sovereign credit ratings play an important role in the global economy. The potential advantages of a strong rating are widely known: the ability to borrow more money, on better terms. And the downsides of a poor one—less credit, higher costs—are equally so. Yet the path to a top rating is less clear. Economists and political scientists have spent decades trying to understand how governments can secure better sovereign credit ratings, principally by focusing on a handful of economic indicators, such as a country’s GDP per capita, real GDP growth, default history, and the like. Such indicators, however, are incomplete guides on their own. The “big three” credit rating agencies—Fitch Ratings, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s Investors Service—rely on more than quantitative factors, which is why their conclusions about the same numbers sometimes differ.

Indeed, that fact, combined with some recent damaging downgrades, has led some experts to conclude that the ratings process is too subjective or ill-thought out and that political leaders should dismiss credit ratings agencies as a result. But adopting such an approach risks missing a valuable opportunity. Subjectivity, after all, is a two-way street, since it can work in a country’s favor as well as to its disadvantage. Governments that understand how ratings are made can take steps to hold or improve their position; those that don’t may end up more vulnerable. And with new rating agencies now emerging alongside the old guard, knowing the rules of the game matters more than ever.

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Lib Dem incumbency advantage persists but fails to prevent disaster

By Tim Smith

As this author warned here, some of the assumptions that incumbency advantage would prevent a poor result for the Liberal Democrats at the election were flawed.  As the post suggested, the party did indeed do far worse than the projection that they would hold onto at least 25 seats. As David Steel said, decades of progress were reversed with the party finishing up with just eight seats, the lowest since 1970, and it was arguably its worst result since 1959 in terms of share of the vote.  The party lost all of its seats in its strongest English region, the South West, and all but one of its eleven seats in Scotland, another traditional stronghold for the party.  Despite this, analysis in this post of the results of the election show that the large incumbency advantage the party has traditionally relied on has not gone away, but that it was not enough on its own to prevent a disaster.

At the election, the Liberal Democrat share of the vote fell in all 57 seats the party won in 2010.  The smallest decline was in East Dunbartsonshire (2.4%); the largest was in Brent Central (35.8%), with a mean decline of 15.7%, slightly worse than the average in Great Britain.  The table below shows the change in the Lib Dem vote from 2010 to 2015 in various categories of constituencies.

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Europe and the Disaggregation of Cyberspace

By Ignas Kalpokas

‘Cyberspace’ has, for the most part, been one of those terms that are constantly used and yet difficult to define. However, one attribute is commonly held to be unquestionable: its indivisibility. As the argument goes, there is only one cyberspace that transcends state borders and regional specificities, thus bringing the world closer together and challenging traditional power relations. It is also seen as a fundamentally decentralised environment that is impossible to control. However, that is not necessarily what the future holds, and Europe might be teaching the world how to carve out its own distinct piece of cyberspace.

Cyberspace itself has acquired quite a few connotations: it is a source of information, a medium of self-expression, a tool for empowerment of groups that would not otherwise be heard, a work tool and contributor to employment through the growth it generates, a marketplace used for commercial activities of every kind, etc. Moreover, access to it is often even considered to be a new fundamental human right. Hence, cyberspace is global by both design and usage. Given this context, it is difficult to imagine anything but a single universal cyberspace. However, an important distinction needs to be made: between cyberspace, the Internet, and the physical layer. The latter refers to the infrastructure required for the signals to travel and reach the intended destination, the Internet is the medium of communication, while cyberspace is the experience enabled by the Internet. Not all of those elements are likely to change in the same manner (or to change at all). In fact, both the Internet and the physical component underpinning it are likely to remain as they are, i.e. global. But cyberspace as experience is going to change.

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Is back to the future what is best for Labour after Ed Miliband?

By Steven Fielding

If victors get to define the reasons for their victory, then losers just get told why they’ve lost. Within hours – minutes even – of the announcement of the shock BBC exit poll at 10pm on May 7, Ed Miliband was being informed in no uncertain terms why he had done so badly by an army of observers, critics and supposed party comrades.

It is ridiculous to imagine that in such a short space of time anyone can properly explain why Labour’s performance was so disappointing. We still don’t know why all the opinion polls were so out of alignment with the final result. Did they consistently over-estimate Labour support in the campaign or was there a late defection to the Conservatives? These things matter.

But political debate rarely stops for the lack of adequate data. As a consequence, in the wake of this and every other Labour disaster at the polls, prejudice often masquerades as analysis. Most infamously, Labour’s third defeat in a row in 1959 saw party leader Hugh Gaitskell and his revisionist cohorts in academia and the media blame its association with nationalisation. But they had long been critical of nationalisation and blatantly sought to use defeat to ditch Labour’s constitutional commitment to public ownership. It was arguable, however, that Gaitskell’s own campaign blunders had harmed his party more. But he still plunged Labour into years of bitter and harmful division.

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Three common errors in interpreting voters’ choices

By BES FactCheck Team

During election night, we undertook a fact-check in which we assessed the factual (in)correctness of all kinds of claims made by politicians, journalists and commentators about the behaviour and motivations of voters. We did so on the basis of analyses of the British Election Study Internet Panel, using data collected recently (wave 4, collected immediately before the start of the campaign). The results of this enterprise can be found on the BES website and in a large number of tweets summarising the conclusions of these fact checks, tagged with #BESFactCheck.

In the course of this work we encountered some popular misconceptions about and incorrect interpretations of voters’ behaviour and motivations that, in our view, deserve extra attention:

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School of Politics and International Relations Election Coverage

The following is a schedule for media appearances by academics from the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics and International Relations.

Professor Philip Cowley will be on Radio 4 from 10pm to 6am and then on the Today Programme tomorrow morning from 6am to 9am.

Professor Steven Fielding will be at the People’s History Election breakfast in Manchester tomorrow morning from 7am-11am.

Dr Matthew Goodwin will be on ITV beginning at 10pm this evening. Further appearences at 6am with slots in Sky News, on Friday BBC News at 6.15am, Al Jazeera 2.30pm and then BBC News again at 8.30pm.

Dr Caitlin Milazzo and Professor Sue Pryce will be on Radio Nottingham throughout the night from 10pm.

Dr Caitlin Milazzo will be on BBC East Midlands tomorrow morning from 9am.

Professor Cees van Der Eijk will be running the BES Fact Check 2015 starting at 10pm tonight, where a team of researchers will be fact checking the claims and counter claims of politicians and political parties in real time. Follow them on Twitter at #BESFactCheck.

The school’s Twitter feed will be live tweeting the election results as they happen throughout the night and can be followed at @NottsPolitics.

And as always, you can follow all of our activities via our NottsPolitics Facebook page.


The British and their political parties: The Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In our previous blog post we discussed the electoral potential of the Conservatives and Labour, and emphasised that while both parties could do well tomorrow and potentially hit 40% of the vote with a good campaign, they could lose a great deal of support as well. Here we consider the electoral potential of the parties that might take some of those votes and who are competing throughout Britain: the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens.

Just as in our discussion about the Conservatives and Labour, we have to distinguish between ‘vote intentions’ and ‘electoral preferences’. Vote intentions are gauged by a question about the party one intends to vote for in the general election. Electoral preferences refer to voters’ propensity to vote for a particular party on a scale from 0 (meaning ‘very unlikely’) to 10. A person’s vote intention could change from one day to the next as a result of their exposure to the election campaign and other events – and they are particularly likely to switch from one party to another in this sense if they have a high electoral preference for that party. Similarly, some voters reply ‘don’t know’ to the vote intention question, because they may find two parties equally attractive and cannot decide which one to support.

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