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Journal articles

Below is a list of published academic journal articles authored by members of The Elections Centre. The list details key information; such as Author(s), Title, Year and Journal etc… Abstracts written for each article are also provided to give readers some information on their objective, methods and findings. Articles are listed in reverse chronological order, from 2000 till present, with the most recent publications near the top of the page. If you would like to access a list of articles published before 2000 please click here or follow the link at the bottom of this page.

Where possible, articles are linked to an electronic version held online by the publisher by their digital object identifier (DOI). Members of academic institutions who subscribe to these journals will find it easy to access the articles. However, if you are not a member of an institution who subscribes, publishers may charge an access fee to view/download the paper.
Due to the sheer quantity of published work produced by the Centre, particularly from Professors Colin Rallings & Michael Thrasher, this list is by no means comprehensive and remains something of a work in progress for the coming weeks. If readers have any queries about previous work conducted by The Elections Centre or would like to be directed to relevant academic work, please feel free to email us at




Journal Articles Published in 2013

Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and G. Borisyuk, Local campaign activity and voting. Electoral Studies, 2013.
Abstract: Two types of data are used to address separate but related questions about the 2011 referendum on the parliamentary voting system. First, a survey of individual candidates at the coincident local government elections examines the extent to which local campaigning was used by the parties (as surrogates for the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps) to provide information and decision cues to electors. Second, aggregate data at local authority-level compares participation in and voting preferences at the two electoral events. The combination of evidence suggests that while having coincident local elections helped to boost turnout in the referendum, the impact of local-level campaigning on the referendum outcome was marginal at best.
Thrasher, M., et al., BAME Candidates in Local Elections in Britain. Parliamentary Affairs, 2013. 66(2).
Abstract: Differences between white and Black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) local election candidates in Britain are examined using survey data. BAME candidates are more likely to be younger and better educated but fewer women are recruited from among this group. Such candidates are electorally inexperienced, have stronger ties with community-related organisations and are more likely to make their own decision to stand for election rather than being approached by a fellow party member. Community ties are also evident when respondents are asked about their support network upon becoming a candidate with almost two-thirds of BAME candidates experiencing positive support from this quarter.
Webber, R., et al., Ballot Order Positional Effects in British Local Elections, 1973–2011. Parliamentary Affairs, 2013.
Abstract: Ballot order positional effects, electoral advantage gained from a candidate’s surname location on the ballot paper, have been extensively studied. For ‘low-information’ elections especially candidates located at or near the top of the ballot paper are advantaged relative to their competitors. This examination of alphabetic bias uses data from local council election results in Britain. The examination of election contests featuring more than half a million candidates provides evidence of an alphabetic bias which increases as the number of vacancies increases. We calibrate the effects upon votes and vote share of alphabetical ordering of candidates. Comparing votes cast for last- and first-placed candidates in the ballot order demonstrates a clear advantage to those placed first. This increases in size as both the number of seats and competing candidates increases. Those located in the top half of the ballot paper are more likely to finish in the top half of the vote order. Subsequently, the distribution of surnames among elected councillors is clustered towards the top of the alphabet. Measures could remove the effects of alphabetic bias, such as randomising name order and introducing experiments in local council electoral practice, a cost-effective means for evaluating change.

Journal Articles Published in 2012

Cole, M. and M. Thrasher, Councillor Perceptions of the Boundary Review Process: Recommendations for Future Practice. Local Government Studies, 2012. 38(6): p. 711-730.
Abstract: Local ward boundary reviews are designed to equalise electorates within each local authority, thereby satisfying the requirement of one vote, one value’. In 2010 this responsibility was passed to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England which has sought to engage with key stakeholders about the process generally. The main actors affected by this process are incumbent councillors who frequently find their own ward boundaries have altered significantly. Such changes may prompt some councillors to stand down before the new boundaries are implemented but others continue and represent new wards. Using data gathered from a survey of councillors whose boundaries were reviewed the paper examines their attitudes towards the principle of boundary revision and the period that should elapse between one review and the next. Councillors are clearly divided over the respective merits of electoral equalisation and communities of local interest when constructing new boundaries. Those serving in the most rural authorities value more the relationship between ward and community boundaries while councillors in the most urbanised areas are more willing to support the strength of argument favouring electoral equality. The paper concludes with a recommendation that there should be more research undertaken immediately after each future review is completed in order to assess the extent and reasons why some councillors choose to stand down and others continue to stand for election to the new wards. This research should also measure more precisely the subsequent impact on councillors in terms of their workload when new electoral boundaries are introduced.
Abstract: Using a method for decomposing electoral bias in a three-party competitive system we contend that discussion surrounding electoral reform for the House of Commons is largely based on misconceptions about bias sources at recent British general elections (Northern Ireland is excluded from the analysis). Labour is the principal beneficiary across these seven elections while the third party, the Liberal Democrats, consistently suffers from a negative bias. There is no clear pattern for the Conservative party, however; it experienced a positive net bias at two of the elections but was disadvantaged for the remaining five. For three bias components electorate, abstentions and minor party Labour consistently has a positive advantage and the Conservatives are always disadvantaged. Abstentions contribute relatively strongly to Labour’s advantage but differences in electorate size are not a major contributor to overall bias. Despite this, legislation changing the independent boundary review process is predicated on the assumption that new rules should remove much of the pro-Labour bias. The analysis finds instead that most bias stems from the geography component: differences in the distributions of each party’s votes and the translation of votes into seats. Vote distribution is clearly the largest component explaining the Liberal Democrats’ disadvantage but it is also the largest component for both Conservative and Labour parties in five of the last seven general elections. Although future boundary reviews will remove the effects of unequal electorates, this process is not designed to address either the impact of turnout/abstention or vote distributions on overall electoral bias.

Journal Articles Published in 2011

Orford, S., et al., Changes in the probability of voter turnout when resiting polling stations: a case study in Brent, UK. Environment and Planning C-Government and Policy, 2011. 29(1): p. 149-169.
Abstract: Recent initiatives for increasing participation in UK elections have yet to replace the traditional method of in-person voting at designated polling stations. Recent research has shown that voter turnout can be sensitive to geographical factors relating to the costs of voting, such as distance travelled to the polling station; government policy has stated that accessibility is a key criterion when siting polling stations. With this paper we directly address these important issues by predicting the probability of electoral turnout to parliamentary, local, and European elections when polling stations are resited to optimal and suboptimal locations based on polling district voter density in the London Borough of Brent. The differences in these predicted probabilities show that, for some polling districts, resiting the polling place could improve the probability of turnout by up to five percentage points. These findings lead to some recommendations for future policy relating to the siting of polling places in the UK
Rallings, C., et al., Forecasting the 2010 general election using aggregate local election data. Electoral Studies, 2011. 30(2): p. 269-277.
Abstract: The paper presents a revised method for estimating national vote shares using aggregate data from local government by-elections. The model was originally developed to forecast the annual outcome of local elections but was adapted in time to provide an accurate forecast of Labour’s landslide victory at the 1997 general election. However, over the past decade the changing pattern of party competition which has seen parties becoming more selective about which elections to contest has led to more elections being excluded from the modelling because they failed to meet the exacting criteria that all three major parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats, had contested both the by-election and the previous main election, normally held in May. Relaxing these criteria, although increasing the number of available cases would adversely affect the forecast, over- or under-estimating party votes. Instead, the revised method overcomes the problem of differential competition by estimating vote shares for parties that contest one but not both elections. A further innovation is the calculation of a weighted moving quarterly average which takes account of the number of days elapsed between the by-election date and the date of forecast. Using the new method we provide estimates for likely party shares for the 2010 general election. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Thrasher, M., et al., Electoral Bias at the 2010 General Election: Evaluating its Extent in a Three-Party System. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 2011. 21(2): p. 279-294.
Abstract: The three-party method for bias decomposition shows that after the 2010 general election Labour continues to benefit from a positive bias but that its advantage over the Conservative party has diminished. Indeed, there is now a positive bias towards the Conservatives also while the position of the Liberal Democrats has deteriorated. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 will change the boundary review process. This feature of the legislation is based on a view that Labour’s advantage relates to inequalities in electorate size which previous boundary reviews, constrained by existing rules, could not remove. However, close examination of the 2010 result shows clearly that most bias follows from the parties’ vote distribution and to a lesser extent electoral abstention. It follows that inequality in the size of constituency electorates, malapportionment, accounts for a rather small proportion of the overall bias. The boundary review, due to complete in 2013, will not, therefore, entirely remove Labour’s relative bias advantage over the Conservatives although both parties will continue to have a considerable advantage over the third-placed Liberal Democrats

Journal Articles Published in 2010

Abstract: It is frequently canvassed by some politicians and political commentators that the current British electoral system is biased against the Conservative party because of variations in constituency size: seats won by the Conservatives at recent elections have been larger than those won by Labour in terms of their registered electorates, thereby disadvantaging the former. As a consequence, it is argued that equalisation of constituency electorates by the Boundary Commissions would remove that disadvantage. The validity of this argument is addressed in two ways. First, we demonstrate that the rules and procedures applied by the Boundary Commissions when redistributing seats in the UK preclude the achievement of substantial equality in constituency electorates. Secondly, we use a recent adaptation of a widely-used procedure for establishing electoral bias in three-party systems to show that variations in constituency electorates had only a minor impact on the outcome of elections after the last two redistributions. The geography of each party’s support base is much more important, so changes in the redistribution procedure are unlikely to have a substantial impact and remove the significant disadvantage currently suffered by the Conservative party
Abstract: The measurement of bias in election results, whereby one or more parties are advantaged in the translation of votes into seats at the expense of others, is attracting increasing attention. So far, almost all of the analytical work – aimed at both identifying the extent of bias in an election result and establishing its causes – has focused on either two-party systems or on the largest two parties in multi-party systems. Building on the firm foundations of one such approach, this paper introduces an original procedure for analysing bias in three-party systems using a readily-appreciated metric for both evaluating the degree of bias and decomposing it into the various causal factors. This is illustrated using the example of the 2005 British general election and a comparison of the results from two-party and three-party analyses of six recent elections there.
Abstract: It is frequently canvassed by some politicians and political commentators that the current British electoral system is biased against the Conservative party because of variations in constituency size: seats won by the Conservatives at recent elections have been larger than those won by Labour in terms of their registered electorates, thereby disadvantaging the former. As a consequence, it is argued that equalisation of constituency electorates by the Boundary Commissions would remove that disadvantage. The validity of this argument is addressed in two ways. First, we demonstrate that the rules and procedures applied by the Boundary Commissions when redistributing seats in the UK preclude the achievement of substantial equality in constituency electorates. Secondly, we use a recent adaptation of a widely-used procedure for establishing electoral bias in three-party systems to show that variations in constituency electorates had only a minor impact on the outcome of elections after the last two redistributions. The geography of each party’s support base is much more important, so changes in the redistribution procedure are unlikely to have a substantial impact and remove the significant disadvantage currently suffered by the Conservative party.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and G. Borisyuk, Much ado about not very much: The electoral consequences of postal voting at the 2005 British general election British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2010. 12(2): p. 223-238.
Abstract: The liberalisation of the rules covering postal voting attracted a good deal of attention during the 2005 general election campaign, including several allegations of fraud and malpractice. This article uses both survey and aggregate-level data to examine the increase in the numbers of postal voters and its impact on both turnout and party choice at that election. It demonstrates the legacy of the all-postal voting pilots held between 2000 and 2004 in prompting a rise in the postal electorate, and a consequent reduction in the correlation between constituency marginality and turnout. In general, however, postal voting on demand did not prove to be a panacea for the turnout ‘problem’ and had only a very weak effect on the distribution of party support
Rallings, C., et al., Parties, recruitment and modernisation: Evidence from local election candidates. Local Government Studies, 2010. 36(3): p. 361-379.
Abstract: Using pooled data from four separate nationwide surveys of local election candidates conducted from 2006-09 the paper assesses the role and importance of parties in the recruitment and selection of candidates. In many respects candidates are similar to councillors with men outnumbering women in a two to one ratio, with very few non-white candidates coming forward for selection and an age bias towards older rather than younger people. Candidates are found generally to have higher educational qualifications and to be employed in professional and managerial populations than in the public at large. Although a majority of candidates are resident in the ward that they contest a large fraction live elsewhere, suggesting that local parties cast the net widely during the recruitment process. The data suggest that the recruitment networks used by parties are relatively closed with many candidates reporting prior experience as local party officer holders or as members of charitable organisations and local public bodies. For two-thirds of candidates the initial decision to stand follows from a request by someone else, often a fellow party member. Women are more likely to be asked than men. Although candidates are aware of the current under-representation of some social and ethnic groups they are generally against using affirmative action measures to redress any imbalance. Although local parties are sometimes seen as contributing towards the problem of under-representation of some groups on council benches the data suggest than an increase in independent candidates would be unlikely to improve the situation and could perhaps cause it to deteriorate still further.

Journal Articles Published in 2009

Orford, S., et al., Electoral salience and the costs of voting at national, sub-national and supra-national elections in the UK: a case study of Brent, UK. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2009. 34(2): p. 195-214.
Abstract: This paper considers the impact of distance to polling station upon electoral turnout. Using polling station level data from a London borough, it examines three types of election – parliamentary, European and local elections – over a twenty year period. The UK is notable among western liberal democracies for its relatively large turnout gap – the percentage point difference between turnout at elections for the Westminster parliament compared to that for other institutions, including local councils and the supra-national European parliament. This research considers the hypothesis that in high information, high salience elections for the national parliament the costs of voting associated with travelling to a polling station to vote in person are perceived as either low or insignificant but that in low information, low salience elections, those costs are perceived as higher and may act as a deterrent upon voting. A series of multi-level models consider the relationships between the dependent variable, percentage turnout, and a range of independent variables, including socio-economic characteristics, marginality as well as the spatial context. We show that there is indeed a relationship between distance and voter turnout, and other spatial and contextual variables, which are stronger for the lower salience European and local elections than for the higher salience national elections. Hence we conclude that the local geography of the polling station can have a significant impact on voter turnout and that there should be a more strategic approach to the siting of polling stations.
Abstract: The 2009 European Parliament and local elections were overshadowed by the revelations about Members of Parliament and their expenses claims. Although turnout at the contests was within the normal range, public reaction to the scandal could be seen in increased support for parties other than those with substantial representation at Westminster. This marked the continuation of a trend for voters to desert the political mainstream at second-order elections in particular. It could well be a feature of the forthcoming general election too but, handicapped by the operation of the electoral system, is unlikely there to lead to a significant advance in seats for these ‘other’ parties.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, The 2008 local elections: A false dawn for the conservatives? Representation, 2009. 45(1): p. 53-65.
Abstract: Local elections took place in England and Wales on 1 May 2008. The London mayor and assembly contests dominated media coverage, with the incumbent Ken Livingstone seeking a third consecutive term, but across the rest of England, a total of 137 local authorities held elections. These comprised 36 metropolitan boroughs, 78 shire districts, 19 unitary councils and a further four ‘shadow’ councils in newly established unitary areas. Most of these authorities were electing a fraction of the seats although whole council elections took place in a number that were implementing either ward boundary changes or new structures. All 22 local authorities in Wales held whole council elections.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and G. Borisyuk, Unused votes in English Local Government Elections: Effects and Explanations. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 2009. 19(1): p. 1-23.
Abstract: Examination of ward-level aggregate data for English local council elections that employ a form of block voting demonstrates that 7–15% of total potential votes are unused. We test two possible explanations for this phenomenon. Firstly, unused votes occur when electors have a restricted choice of candidates, principally when parties fail to field as many candidates as there are available seats. Secondly, unused votes stem from a misunderstanding of the voting procedure. We find that both sources make statistically significant contributions to the explanation of the level of unused votes. The number of unused votes does decrease when more candidates stand for election. However, we also find that within each party’s slate of candidates those placed higher on the ballot paper have a clear advantage over those lower in the alphabetic order and hence lower in ballot paper order. Moreover, the level of educational attainment of a ward’s population is a statistically significant predictor of unused votes, suggesting perhaps that some voters are failing to understand the voting system. This analysis raises issues concerning voter awareness of block voting procedures and whether ballot paper order should be randomized in such cases in order to eradicate alphabetic bias.

Journal Articles Published in 2008

Banducci, S.A., et al., Ballot Photographs as Cues in Low-Information Elections. Political Psychology, 2008. 29(6): p. 903-917.
Abstract: In low-information elections, voters are often faced with the task of choosing from a list of unknown candidates. By examining a set of low-information elections where candidate photographs were displayed on the ballot, we test how first impressions of candidates can influence election outcomes. We find that attractive candidates are more likely to be attributed the qualities associated with successful politicians and these trait inferences, based on facial appearances, influence the outcomes of elections. We also find that these trait inferences are based on physical characteristics of the candidates, such as age, race and ethnicity, evident from a photograph. Therefore, first impressions can be important determinants of election outcomes, especially in low-information elections.
Borisyuk, G., et al., Measuring bias: Moving from two-party to three-party elections. Electoral Studies, 2008. 27(2): p. 245-256.
Abstract: One method for assessing the extent of electoral bias is that first developed by Brookes. This method decomposes bias into different elements, including efficiency of vote distribution as well as effects separately produced by electorate size and turnout. Brookes’ method is used to measure electoral bias largely in two-party systems but the rise of third parties, particularly in recent UK elections, has prompted the search for a reliable alternative. This paper reports upon findings from an on-going research programme. The nature and theoretical underpinnings of different procedures that might be used for decomposing bias in the three-party case are outlined. Two main procedures are constructed and then tested against the results from actual elections. The evidence shows that these procedures produce similar findings in respect of the 2005 general election but differences emerge when earlier elections are considered. Research continues to assess whether these differences follow from the nature of party competition at each election or the particular procedure employed.
Abstract: Electoral turnout is an important measure of the health of a liberal democracy. Although research identifies factors that affect electoral participation, we still know little about how electors in a specific location respond to opportunities to vote for different kinds of local, national, and supranational institutions. This paper addresses this issue by analysing the relative rates of turnout at local, parliamentary, and European elections within three time periods for the London Borough of Brent. It uses turnout data for individual polling districts to investigate whether relative differences in turnout are sustained across time, whether polling districts perform consistently or not for different types of elections and whether variations in turnout are related to marginality. The results indicate that turnout at different types of elections is not stable even within tightly constrained time periods and that there are statistically significant differences in the relative rates of participation between polling districts. Geographically, the differences in relative rates of turnout appear to be spatially clustered, particularly with respect to local elections and this may reflect an increase in the concentration of party campaigning in marginal wards.
Abstract: Parliamentary boundary reviews in the UK are undertaken to remove — as far as is practicable — inter-constituency variations in the number of electors. Their impact has almost invariably favoured the Conservative party — largely because population shifts between reviews tend to favour Labour with the movement of electors away from the inner cities and old industrial areas. That has been the case again with the Fifth Periodical Reviews conducted by the Boundary Commissions for England and Wales. The next general election will thus be slightly easier for the Conservatives to win than if the boundaries used for the 2005 contest were to be retained. But not much easier. Recent elections have seen very substantial biases operating in the translation of votes into seats favouring Labour. The biases are the result of the interaction of several geographies — of constituency size, abstentions and party support- only one of which (size) is directly tackled by the reviews. Unless those other geographies are changed the next two or three UK general elections are likely to see a continuation of these marked biases.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, The demise of new Labour? The British ‘Mid-Term’ elections of 2008. Forum-a Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics, 2008. 6(2).
Abstract: The annual local elections in Britain are closely scrutinised for the clues they offer about the current state of public opinion. The 2008 contests attracted particular attention. The governing Labour party recorded its worst local election performance for 40 years; the Conservative opposition its best since John Major’s electoral honeymoon in 1992. These elections, and other evidence, appear to have shifted the political narrative so that a Conservative victory at the next general election (due before mid-2010) is now seen as increasingly possible.
Abstract: This paper considers the impact of distance to polling station upon electoral turnout. Using polling station level data from a London borough, it examines three types of election – parliamentary, European and local elections – over a twenty year period. The UK is notable among western liberal democracies for its relatively large turnout gap – the percentage point difference between turnout at elections for the Westminster parliament compared to that for other institutions, including local councils and the supra-national European parliament. This research considers the hypothesis that in high information, high salience elections for the national parliament the costs of voting associated with travelling to a polling station to vote in person are perceived as either low or insignificant but that in low information, low salience elections, those costs are perceived as higher and may act as a deterrent upon voting. A series of multi-level models consider the relationships between the dependent variable, percentage turnout, and a range of independent variables, including socio-economic characteristics, marginality as well as the spatial context. We show that there is indeed a relationship between distance and voter turnout, and other spatial and contextual variables, which are stronger for the lower salience European and local elections than for the higher salience national elections. Hence we conclude that the local geography of the polling station can have a significant impact on voter turnout and that there should be a more strategic approach to the siting of polling stations.

Journal Articles Published in 2007

Abstract: The context of support for a range of minor parties in the United Kingdom is identified using ward-level aggregate data from the 2004 European elections in London. Four parties in particular, namely Respect, Green, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the British National Party (BNP), which collectively obtained 3 in 10 of all European votes cast in London and performed well at the subsequent general election in 2005, are considered. Bivariate and multivariate analyses, employing socio-economic and political variables, show that for each of the four parties there is an identifiable and reasonably welldefined ward-level context of support. Regression models help to explain around three-quarters of variance in vote support. Strong similarities are found in the context of support for the anti-European Union UKIP and the far-right, anti-immigrant BNP. Close study of the geography of support shows that while the spread of votes for minor parties is fairly homogeneous across some boroughs, in others there is a fair degree of heterogeneity.
Francis, G., et al., Instantaneous Database Access. International Journal Information Theories & Applications, 2007. 14: p. 161-168.
Abstract: The biggest threat to any business is a lack of timely and accurate information. Without all the facts, businesses are pressured to make critical decisions and assess risks and opportunities based largely on guesswork, sometimes resulting in financial losses and missed opportunities. The meteoric rise of Databases (DB) appears to confirm the adage that “information is power”, but the stark reality is that information is useless if one has no way to find what one needs to know. It is more accurate perhaps to state that, “the ability to find information is power”. In this paper we show how Instantaneous Database Access System (IDAS) can make a crucial difference by pulling data together and allowing users to summarise information quickly from all areas of a business organisation.
Abstract: Evidence from both sample surveys and the marked electoral registers is used to compare the participation of individual electors at the 2001 general election and the 2002 local elections in England. In those cases where conventional electoral procedures have been retained, there is a continuing gap between local and general election turnout. Those who vote at both types of election tend to have a sharper sense of civic duty and/or an incentive to vote based on the benefits perceived to be likely to accrue from the outcome of the local contest. However, in those places where the costs of participation are reduced through the introduction of all-postal voting, the turnout gap disappears as does the distinctive character of those who vote in local elections. In each case the findings support a rational choice model of participation with respondents weighing the benefits and costs of voting in the context of their own sense of duty.

Journal Articles Published in 2006

Abstract: Electors in the North East of England voted overwhelmingly in November 2004 against the establishment of an elected regional assembly. All parts of the region, every type of elector, and supporters of all major political parties were opposed to the new institution. Although most people thought the region was disadvantaged compared with other parts of Great Britain, few believed an assembly would have a positive impact on this or any other public concern. Supporters of the assembly were additionally handicapped by the perception that their campaign was less effective than that mounted by the ‘No’ side. The results of the referendum, and the accompanying attitudes, have removed elected regional assemblies from the policy agenda for the foreseeable future.
Van der Kolk, H., C. Rallings, and M. Thrasher, The Effective Use of the Supplementary Vote in Mayoral Elections: London 2000 and 2004. Representation, 2006. 42(2): p. 91-102.
Abstract: Directly elected mayors in England are currently elected by a voting system known as the Supplementary Vote (SV). This method was first used to elect the London mayor in 2000 and used also for all other subsequent mayoral elections. Only when voters use either their first or their second vote (or both) for one of the top two candidates, can their vote be called ’effective’. If they do not vote for one of the top two candidates, their vote is wasted and ineffective in deciding between the top two candidates. If the group of ineffective vote(r)s is large, the outcome might not reflect the preferences of the electorate. By identifying seven types of voters within SV, we show which groups of voters may be ineffective in expressing their preference between the top two candidates. We discuss the way voters have or have not effectively used SV in London mayoral elections in both 2000 and 2004. At the London mayoral elections of 2000 and 2004, about 20 per cent of the voters were, in this respect, ineffective. This high percentage resulted in the election of a mayor with less than a clear majority of the votes.
Abstract: Methods for estimating turnout in multi-member plurality (MMP) elections where the number of ballot papers issued is unknown tend to focus upon the distribution of votes between parties. This paper shows that existing methods may lead to significant errors in turnout estimates for English local government elections. We introduce a new method of calculating voter turnout that uses not only the total number of votes cast, but also information relating to the presence or absence of candidates and the distribution of votes between candidates of the same party. This method not only appears to improve substantially upon previously used algorithms, but also demonstrates that partial abstention is more likely when voters are presented with fewer of their chosen party’s candidates than the number of seats at stake. We believe that this new algorithm may have general application to MMP elections.

Journal Articles Published in 2005

Borisyuk, R., et al., Forecasting the 2005 General Election: A Neural Network Approach. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2005. 7(2): p. 199-209.
Abstract: Although neural networks are increasingly used in a variety of disciplines there are few applications in political science. Approaches to electoral forecasting traditionally employ some form of linear regression modelling. By contrast, neural networks offer the opportunity to consider also the non-linear aspects of the process, promising a better performance, efficacy and flexibility. The initial development of this approach preceded the 2001 general election and models correctly predicted a Labour victory. The original data used for training and testing the network were based on the responses of two experts to a set of questions covering each general election held since 1835 up to 1997. To bring the model up to date, 2001 election data were added to the training set and two separate neural networks were trained using the views of our original two experts. To generate a forecast for the forthcoming general election, answers to the same questions about the performance of parties during the current parliament, obtained from a further 35 expert respondents, were offered to the neural networks. Both models, with slightly different probabilities, forecast another Labour victory. Modelling electoral forecasts using neural networks is at an early stage of development but the method is to be adapted to forecast party shares in local council elections. The greater frequency of such elections will offer better opportunities for training and testing the neural networks.
Lambe, P., C. Rallings, and M. Thrasher, Elections and public opinion: Plus Ca change. Parliamentary Affairs, 2005. 58(2): p. 335-350.
Abstract: Public attitudes towards the war in Iraq continued to trouble the Prime Minister and his government without affecting voting intentions to any great degree. Opinion poll ratings were remarkably stable, with Labour retaining a small lead over the Conservatives. There was general dissatisfaction with both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Although the Conservative Party finished ahead in the European Parliamentary elections, its vote share fell compared with the previous election. The anti-European vote was much in evidence. Local elections saw net gains for the opposition parties and sizeable losses for Labour. Local government by-elections told a similar story. The second elections for the London Mayor and Assembly saw Ken Livingstone re-elected and only minor changes to the Assembly’s composition. Two minor parties, the British National Party and Respect, were only denied Assembly seats because of the operation of a 5% electoral threshold. There was some success for the Liberal Democrats in parliamentary by-elections but disappointing results for both Labour and Conservative Parties. Referendum voters in the North East region of England overwhelmingly rejected the proposal for an elected regional assembly.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Elections & Polls 2004. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 2005. 15(2): p. 265-278.
Abstract: There were three by-elections in 2004. Two took place on the 15th July 2004. The first was in Hodge Hill, Birmingham following the resignation of Rt. Hon. Terence Anthony Gordon Davis on 22nd June 2004, on election as Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The second was in Leicester South following the death of James Marshall on 27th May 2004. A further by-election took place on 30th September 2004 in Hartlepool following the resignation of Rt. Hon. Peter Benjamin Mandelson on 8th September 2004.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Not all ‘second-order’ contests are the same: Turnout and party choice at the concurrent 2004 local and European Parliament elections in England. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2005. 7(4): p. 584-597.
Abstract: The European Parliament elections in June 2004 coincided with local elections in many parts of England. In four regions of the country these elections were conducted entirely by postal ballots; in four other regions traditional methods of polling were used. Overall turnout was higher where all-postal voting was in place, but having local in addition to European elections made an independent and significant contribution to the level of electoral participation in all postal and non-postal regions alike. The pattern of party choice at the two types of contest also varied considerably. The three major political parties together took a much larger share of the overall vote at the local than at the European elections, and each independently ‘lost’ a sizeable number of its local votes to smaller parties. Aggregate level analysis suggests that voters assess the importance of electoral contests along a continuum and, in Britain in 2004 at least, treated local elections as less ‘second-order’ than pan-European ones.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and D. Denver, Trends in local elections in Britain, 1975-2003. Local Government Studies, 2005. 31(4): p. 393-413.
Abstract: Five aspects of local elections in Britain over a thirty year period are examined. First, the process of party politicisation has seen the growth of more three-party systems whilst in parts of the Celtic fringe electors may have a choice of at least four parties. The increase in party candidates has had an important impact on the second aspect considered, that of uncontested seats. In some areas, particularly in the larger towns and cities, lack of contestation has not been significant. In remaining areas the trend has been towards increased competition and challenge for council seats. The third aspect is electoral turnout, where a recent decline has prompted considerable debate. However, the benefit of a longitudinal study is to provide historical perspective. The data show fluctuations in turnout but no ‘golden age’ where participation rates were significantly higher than in the modern era. The fourth and fifth aspects are the distribution of votes and seats respectively. The two-party vote share has declined and voters appear more prepared to support minor party candidates. In turn this has contributed to a growth in the variety of party systems in local government.

Journal Articles Published in 2004

Borisyuk, G., C. Rallings, and M. Thrasher, Selecting indexes of electoral proportionality: General properties and relationships. Quality & Quantity, 2004. 38(1): p. 51-74.
Abstract: Measuring the proportionality of outcomes in terms of each party’s vote and seat shares is an important task in electoral analysis.Various indexes have been designed that provide a summary statistic of electoral proportionality/disproportionality. Claims and counter-claims have been made regarding the strengths and weaknesses of particular indexes. Important consequences follow from this methodological pluralism. First, it is not always clear which index has been employed when particular electoral outcomes are discussed. Second, recent additions to the list of indexes have not been thoroughly scrutinised and appraised. Third, the lack of knowledge about the general relationship between indexes means that observations might be different had a different index been used. This article seeks to identify and clarify the particular properties of different indexes of proportionality. Relatively new, and largely untested, indexes of proportionality a reexamined and some unusual and potentially damaging properties are identified. We also compare different measures of disproportionality in an effort to specify some general properties of the inter-relationships between them.Understanding the particular patterns of electoral competition and vote distributions that affect the relationship between these measures should enable users to anticipate the consequences of preferring one index over others.
Rallings, C., R. Johnston, and M. Thrasher, Equalising votes but enabling bias: The electoral impact of the 1977 and 1999 ward boundary reviews in London. Urban Studies, 2004. 41(7): p. 1367-1393.
Abstract: The boundaries of electoral units in Britain are periodically reviewed in order to enact the democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote, one value’. The Commission-led reviews of local ward boundaries in London in the late 1970s and late 1990s both successfully reduced the variance in elector- councillor ratios within individual London boroughs and thereby helped to remove any bias in election outcomes stemming from malapportionment. However, other factors such as the efficiency with which a party’s vote was distributed, the impact of differing levels of turnout and the intervention and success of third parties all remained crucial in determining the precise relationship between votes cast and seats won. It is impossible to ensure that all votes are equal under the ‘first-past-the- post’ system because these other components of electoral bias are either not subject to review, or amenable to manipulation.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Elections and public opinion: Leaders under pressure. Parliamentary Affairs, 2004. 57(2): p. 380-395.
Abstract: The Conservatives’ continuing failure to make significant advances in the opinion polls, public dissatisfaction with the performance of the Opposition leader, and disappointing local and devolved election results all contributed to a leadership crisis with the replacement of lain Duncan Smith by Michael Howard. The Labour leader too faced a most difficult year, particularly in the conduct of foreign policy. Public opinion remained largely sceptical about the need for war with Iraq; and although support strengthened once combat troops were committed, it declined after the war ended. In elections to devolved institutions Labour made a small advance in Wales but lost ground in Scotland. In each country there were setbacks for the nationalist parties. Postponed elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly were eventually held in November and electoral opinion on both sides of the sectarian divide hardened, with seats gains for both the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. In England the Liberal Democrats performed well in local elections and also captured the Brent East constituency from Labour at a parliamentary by-election.
Rallings, C., et al., The New Deal for Communities: assessing procedures and voter turnout at partnership board elections. Environment and Planning C-Government and Policy, 2004. 22(4): p. 569-582.
Abstract: The New Deal for Communities (NDC) initiative forms an integral part of the British government’s policy towards urban regeneration. An important provision within this policy programme allows for community representatives to be elected rather than selected to partnership boards. These elections were not contested by candidates representing political parties. This policy development may be used as a future template for a range of single-purpose elected authorities, including foundation hospitals, social services, leisure, and policing. The paper examines partnership board elections in terms of the candidates’ experience and also the participation of voters. A feature of these elections has been the introduction of innovations in electoral procedure and practice as a means of engaging local communities and facilitating voter participation. Interviews with candidates sought to identify their motives for standing and their feelings about the electoral process itself. An analysis of voter turnout considers how these elections compare with local government council elections covering the same areas. The findings show a mixed picture. Some elections to NDC partnerships did result in a higher turnout than that for local government council elections. However, a majority of partnership elections had turnouts that were below the predicted level. It was noticeable that partnerships within the Greater London area generally had lower than expected turnout. A number of issues are identitied that are relevant to the future conduct of these and similar nonpartisan elections.
Rallings, C., et al., Redistricting Local Governments in England: Rules, Procedures, and Electoral Outcomes. State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 2004. 4(4): p. 470-490.
Abstract: The Commission-based process of local government electoral redistricting in England seeks to balance the tensions between both neutral and party political and mathematic and organic approaches to boundary drawing. We evaluate the success of this process by assessing the impact of redistricting on electoral equality and the strength of the political parties in each local authority. On one hand, the Commission appears to be effective in achieving vote equality by reducing the variability between electoral units in the ratio of electors to councillors. On the other hand, the way that submissions are made to the Commission, together with aspects of social and electoral geography over which it has no influence, can allow one party to receive more electoral benefit than another from redistricting.
Thrasher, M., R. Johnston, and C. Rallings, Magnifying voters’ preferences: Bias in elections to Birmingham’s city council. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2004. 35(1): p. 69-103.
Abstract: Results of Birmingham’s city-council elections throughout a ninety-year period show that electoral bias had a significant impact on the success of particular parties during different phases of party-system development. Although the electoral system tends to favor large parties, its bias toward Labor since World War II has been extraordinary. At times, it was the crucial factor in determining control of the city’s administration.
Van der Kolk, H., C. Rallings, and M. Thrasher, Electing mayors: A comparison of different electoral procedures. Local Government Studies, 2004. 30(4): p. 589-608.
Abstract: In 2000 and 2002 the first direct elections for mayors were held in En land. They were elected using the supplementary vote method. This article stinnnarises the discussion which led to the adoption Qf this electoral system, analyses some of the main arguments used. states some general criteria by which electoral systems can be judged, and evaluates some other possible methods for conducting such elections. It concludes that in the light of at least some general conditions, supplementary vote (SV) is a less desirable way of choosing a mayor than alternative vote (AV) and some other systems. However, it seems as if a simple amendment of the original SV procedure will avoid some of its most apparent problems.

Journal Articles Published in 2003

Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Elections and Public Opinion: Conservative Doldrums and Continuing Apathy. Parliamentary Affairs, 2003. 56(2): p. 270-282+ii+v.
Abstract: Various measures show that the Conservatives are falling short of the level of progress required to mount a serious challenge to Labour. Opinion polls report Labour ahead, and towards the end of the year there was a narrowing of the gap between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Most polls reported general dissatisfaction with the political leaders. The local elections in May saw triumphs and defeats for all three main parties as 40 local authorities changed hands. Again, the Conservative Party missed an opportunity to inflict a heavy defeat upon the government. A majority of local referendums, called to decide on the principle of directly-elected mayors, saw voters reject the idea and turnout was generally low. In those mayoral elections that were held, turnout disappointed, while Independent candidates fared relatively well against candidates from the political mainstream. Labour comfortably retained the only parliamentary by-election fought and in local government by-elections the party suffered few net losses.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Explaining split-ticket voting at the 1979 and 1997 general and local elections in England. Political Studies, 2003. 51(3): p. 558-572.
Abstract: Only in 1979, 1997 and 2001 have British general elections coincided with the annual local government elections. Uniquely, this study uses both survey and aggregate data to examine aspects of split-ticket voting at the simultaneous elections in 1979 and 1997. Through the use of bi- and multivariate analysis, it suggests that ticket-splitting is a product of both voter attitudes and party strategies: although it is almost wholly confined to the less partisan, the electoral context in which those votes are being cast can play an additional and significant role in stimulating such behaviour.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Local electoral participation in Britain. Parliamentary Affairs, 2003. 56(4): p. 700-715.
Abstract: Poor turnout at local elections has long been a feature of British politics. We know something about why this is so and about the types of place and of individual most likely to be associated with comparatively higher or lower levels of participation. Recent reforms and the piloting of new electoral arrangements have attempted to boost turnout by reducing the ‘costs’ of voting, but their effects may be short-lived if electors continue to doubt the value of their local votes. It is likely that those most available for mobilisation are the electors who currently do vote in general elections but not in local contests. New research suggests that commitment to a neighbourhood on the part of both voters and politicians really does help to counter local-level apathy, with caring about who actually wins a given contest itself an effective mobilising tool. In other words, if local elections are seen to matter, then people will participate in them.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and G. Borisyuk, Seasonal factors, voter fatigue and the costs of voting. Electoral Studies, 2003. 22(1): p. 65-79.
Abstract: The impact of voting costs upon voter turnout is examined using more than 4000 British local government by-elections occurring between 1983 and 1999. Such by-elections occur in virtually every week of the year providing an opportunity to study fluctuations in electoral turnout. The analysis not only notes that voter turnout is in general decline but also identifies a separate seasonal component that affects levels of electoral participation. By-election turnout peaks in the months March–June and is at its lowest during the winter months. Voter turnout appears to be related to varying times of sunset throughout the year, suggesting that a visit to the polling station is a variable cost. A second identifiable cost is associated with the frequency of voting. The study shows that, ceteris paribus, the less time that has elapsed between a by-election and the previous election the lower the turnout. Voter fatigue, therefore, has a measurable impact on turnout.

Journal Articles Published in 2002

Johnston, R., C. Rallings, and M. Thrasher, Electoral success, electoral bias, and Labour hegemony: electoral system effects in English metropolitan boroughs. Environment and Planning A, 2002. 34(7): p. 1303-1317.
Abstract: Since their first elections in 1973, the thirty-six metropolitan borough councils in England’s six metropolitan counties have been dominated by the Labour Party. In part, this domination reflects the normal exaggerative features of the first-past-the-post electoral system: the largest party in terms of vote share tends to get a diproportionate share of the seats. As well as an exaggeration effect, however, that electoral system is also prone to produce biased outcomes — in that with the same share of the votes cast one party tends to perform much better than the other. This has been the case in the English metropolitan boroughs throughout their existence, with consistent — and often very substantial — pro-Labour biases. As well as indicating the extent of those biases, this paper also decomposes them and shows to what extent Labour’s significant electoral advantage there is a function of variations in ward size, turnout, the pattern of voting for the Liberal Democrats, and the efficiency of its own vote distribution relative to that for the Conservatives.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Elections and public opinion: Amidst the apathy, another landslide. Parliamentary Affairs, 2002. 55(2): p. 347-362.
Abstract: For the newspaper headline writers, the 2001 general election result was regarded as something of a non-event. Across Great Britain just 21 seats changed hands, compared with 178 in 1997. Labour’s Commons’ majority was hardly dented, falling from 179 to 167. The scale of national swing (1.8% from Labour to Conservative) was much less than that of four years before. The electorate appeared bored by the proceedings: the turnout across the UK, 59.4%, was the lowest since 1918. A second Labour victory appeared a foregone conclusion and many apparently found more attractive alternatives to voting on June 7. However, while the 2001 election may not have captured the contemporary imagination, it may yet prove of historical importance precisely because it did not significantly reshape the composition of the House of Commons, there was no Conservative recovery and electoral abstention reached new heights. In short, the election is more interesting for what did not occur than for what did.
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, General and Local Election Voting in 2001. Representation, 2002. 38(3): p. pp193-203.
Abstract: Rarely can a general election result have been forecast with greater certainty. Opinion polls throughout the Parliament recorded unprecedented levels of support for Labour. In more than 200 polls conducted between the 1997 and 2001 elections, Labour’s lead over the Conservatives averaged 19 percentage points. Only for a brief period, during the row over fuel tax in September 2000, were the Conservatives able to claw back Labour’s lead.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and D. Cowling, Mayoral referendums and elections. Local Government Studies, 2002. 28(4): p. 67-90.
Abstract: The principle of directly elected mayors forms a key part of the Labour government’s strategy to modernise local democracy and strengthen accountability. First applied to London, the government has sought to extend the institution, allowing local referendums to determine whether the public favours the principle or not. This article examines the state of public opinion regarding elected mayors before reporting on the outcome of referendums held since the 2001 general election. We then consider the results of mayoral elections, specifically addressing issues of electoral participation, legitimation and partisan support. In conclusion, we consider whether its experience with both referendums and mayoral elections may have affected the government’s enthusiasm for further expansion of this institution across the local government system.
Rallings, C., M. Thrasher, and R. Johnston, The slow death of a governing party: the erosion of Conservative electoral support in England 1979-1997. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2002. 4: p. pp 271-298.
Abstract: This article first describes the decline in Conservative Party representation in local government over the period 1979–97. It then explores a number of factors to account for the nature and depth of that decline, including: differential abstention; the desertion of heartland voters; tactical voting at local level; and electoral bias. Clearly, the Conservatives’ performance at local elections was worse than might have been expected given the party’s overall electoral popularity. It appears that Conservative council candidates largely fell victim to the changing pattern of party competition and the apparent ability of rival parties to target seats more effectively. Furthermore, the impact of these factors was compounded by the operation of biases within the electoral system.

Journal Articles Published in 2001


Abstract: Only in 1979 and 1997 have British general elections coincided with the annual local government electoral contests. This research note uses both survey and aggregate data to provide new estimates of the extent of split-ticket voting in England at those two elections, and to compare similarities and differences between them. II appears that no fewer than one in six of those electors who voted for one of the three major parries in both contests made a different choice at national as opposed to local level. The fact that the proportion of those splitting their vote in this way was so similar in 1979 and 1997 may surprise those expecting the phenomenon to have grown as part of a general process of partisan dealignment. Rather it appears that changing patterns or contestation between 1979 and 1997, especially at local level, may be better able to account fur those variations observed.


Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Elections and public opinion: The end of the honeymoon? Parliamentary Affairs, 2001. 54(2): p. 322
Abstract: Various indicators of the state of electoral opinion during the year 2000 are examined. Opinion polls show that Labour’s lead remained large until protest over fuel taxes resulted in a sharp decline in popularity. The crisis was short-lived and polls reverted to normal. Labour was less popular in local government elections. Standing as an Independent, Ken Livingstone easily defeated Labour’s candidate for the London mayor and the party tied with the Conservatives London Assembly seats. In other local elections the Conservatives recorded significant gains. The results from by-elections were mixed. Labour successfully defended seats at parliamentary by- elections, while the Conservatives lost one of their safest seats to the Liberal Democrats. Local government by-elections were more favourable to the Conservatives with the party recording significant gains over the year, largely at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Journal Articles Published in 2000
Rallings, C. and M. Thrasher, Personality politics and protest voting: The first elections to the Greater London Authority. Parliamentary Affairs, 2000. 53(4): p. 753-764.
Abstract: On 8 May 2000, in a brief though poignant ceremony, Ken Livingstone was sworn in as the first directly elected mayor of London. Fourteen years before, as leader of the Greater London Council, he had seen his office and the entire council legislated out of existence by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. Labour’s 1997 general election manifesto promised to restore a London-wide local authority and to establish an elected mayor that together would comprise a new Greater London Authority and a political focus for the capital. Londoners, voting in a referendum held in May 1998, approved the plan by almost three to one, and elections were then scheduled for two years later. Those elections, fought under new voting systems, provide the focus for this article. Our analysis begins with the election campaign, reports on the findings of pre-election polls and then outlines the electoral systems used to elect the Greater London Authority. We then describe the election results for mayor and the two types of assembly member and consider the wider implications for the state of party competition and public engagement in the electoral process.

List of publications from 2000 

To view a list of research by The Elections Centre published as journal articles before 2000, please click here.