Woman smiling in a polling station

It’s not the economy, actually

Do economics and our financial situation affect the way we vote during elections?

04 May 2005

By Christian Jarrett

“It’s the economy, stupid”, was Bill Clinton’s campaign mantra back in the nineties. Well, no it’s not actually. At least not according to a new analysis of British voting behaviour in the 1997 and 2001 general elections.

As part of the British Household Panel Study, over three thousand people provided annual information from 1992 to 2001, on their current financial situation and expectations, as well as stating who they voted for in the ’92, ’97 and 2001 elections.

If we choose who to vote for based on economics, then you’d think that previously non-Tory voters who were financially comfortable in 1997 would reward the Conservative government (who had been in power) by voting for them. But Ron Johnston and his colleagues at Bristol University found very few examples of this happening. Similarly in 2001 (when Labour returned to power), examples were rare of previously non-Labour voters switching their allegiance to Labour because of their agreeable financial situation. In fact, an opposite pattern was apparent – those people who reported being in dire financial circumstances were twice as likely as the financially comfortable to switch their vote to Labour!

So according to these findings, either we don’t base our choice of vote on economics, or if we do, then we do it selflessly, based on our perception of the country’s economy as a whole rather than on our own circumstances.

An alternative possibility here is that our political allegiance colours how we judge our financial situation. Johnston found some evidence for this. People who voted Tory in ’92 were more likely to report their finances were okay at the ’97 election, as if viewing the economy through blue-tinted spectacles.


Johnston, R., Sarker, R., Jones, K., Bolster, A., Propper, C. & Burgess, S. (2005). Egocentric economic voting and changes in party choice: Great Britain 1992-2001. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 15, 129-144.