Alienation and Voting Behavior

Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker of the University of Southampton discovered that British people were polled in 1994 and 1972 with this question: “Do you think that British politicians are out merely for themselves, for their party, or to do their best for their country?”. The two professors had the inspired idea of re-administering the precise same question to a modern sample.

What motivates politicians?
What motivates politicians?

These results are striking in many ways. At no point in the last 70 years have even a third of voters believed that politicians are out mainly for the political party to which they belong. One wonders then how successful party branding efforts are if voters don’t expect politicians to prioritize their party once in office. Also striking is the fact that even during the war and its coalition government, 35% of British people thought politicians were mainly out for themselves. I suspect the US number at the time would have been much higher. Last, people who believe politicians do what’s best for the country have become much rarer over the past 7 decades.

Jennings and Stoker find that lack of faith in politicians is a unifying theme among voters who intend to support the UK Independence Party:

Arguably political disaffection unifies UKIP supporters at least as much as either opposition to the EU or concern about immigration. If we model the likelihood of voting UKIP as a function of those answering that politicians are out for “themselves”, as much variance is explained as typical social predictors of UKIP support (those predictors in our dataset being respondents who are male, over-54 and working class). UKIP voters are not necessarily the “left behind”, but are people holding unambiguously and intensely negative views of politics and politicians. UKIP supporters are also much more firm-minded on this issue, with just 4% indicating “don’t know” (a much lower figure than the average of 12% for the other parties). Not only are UKIP supporters more negative, they are surer of their views. They “know” that establishment politicians are serving themselves or their parties not the country.

Their whole political analysis is thoughtful and intriguing. Check it out here.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.