Study Notes

Voting context model

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The Voting Context Model explains how and why voting decisions vary according to the differing nature of elections and the differing circumstances surrounding them.

It studies how individuals' votes may vary in different elections because of the different constituency characteristics in different types of election, because :

  • Individuals may have different objectives in different types of election [registering their ongoing support for their preferred option or voting tactically to prevent the election of the least preferred candidate]
  • Individuals may vote according to different criteria in different types of election
  • Although the First Past the Post electoral system is used for Westminster Elections different electoral systems are used in elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and to the European Parliament and to elect the Mayor of London.

Thus, for example let us imagine that a very strong Conservative identifier lives in a very safe Labour local council ward which is part of a marginal Liberal Democrat -Labour Parliamentary constituency within a marginal Conservative-Liberal Democrat European constituency.He might:

  • Abstain in the local council election as his vote won’t change the result and he won’t vote Labour
  • Vote Liberal Democrat in the Parliamentary election to make sure Labour doesn’t win
  • Vote Conservative in the European election as it is proportional representation so his vote will count

Whereas another strong Conservative strong identifier might chose to vote Conservative even if it results in the election of a least preferred candidate.

Furthermore if at some point in the future local and parliamentary elections are carried out under some form of PR this too would encourage strong identifiers with all parties to vote for their preferred party.

Voters may also vote according to different criteria in different types of election.

  • In local council elections some voters are more likely to vote for particular candidates rather than for particular parties and on the basis of local rather than national issues which may mean that they vote for different parties in local and national elections.
  • Alternatively their vote in local elections may be influenced by national considerations and they may wish to register a protest vote against "their" party's current performance in government even though they have every intention of continuing to support "their” party in the future general election.

The precise political circumstances surrounding by -elections may similarly influence voting behaviour in unexpected directions.

  • Assume that there are 3 Parties: Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat and that the Labour Party is currently in national government.
  • Supporters of the Labour Party may wish to exercise a protest vote against it but they are probably more likely to switch to the Liberal Democrats than to go so far as to vote Conservative.
  • If Conservative identifiers become aware of this rise in Liberal Democrat support some of them too may switch tactically to the Liberal Democrats as the best means of ousting the Labour candidate while other Conservative identifiers may choose to continue to register their support for the Conservative Party even if it results in the election of the Labour Candidate.

The voting context model is particularlyinteresting if watching the voting behaviour of a strong UKIP identifier. They will almost certainly vote UKIP in the European Parliament election, UKIP again in the council elections (both under PR), but Conservative in the general election if they are in a Labour-Conservative marginal as otherwise a vote for UKIP could mean a Labour candidate would win.

Of particular interest here is what happened to UKIP in the 2015 election. They picked up 3 million more votes, although they were too geographically spread out to win many seats. In Rochester and Strood, Mark Reckless, who had defected from the Tories to UKIP and won his seat in a by-election in November, achieved the same number of votes in the General election as he had achieved in the by-election but lost by 7,000 votes to exactly the same Tory candidate. This suggests that UKIP still rely on low by-election turnout from mainstream party voters but in general elections they will need to up their game considerably to win seats.

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