The declining representativeness of the British party system, and why it matters

Heinz Brandenburg, Robert Johns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
80 Downloads (Pure)


In a recent article, Michael Laver has explained ‘Why Vote-Seeking Parties May Make Voters Miserable’. His model shows that, while ideological convergence may boost congruence between governments and the median voter, it can reduce congruence between the party system and the electorate as a whole. Specifically, convergence can increase the mean distance between voters and their nearest party. In this article we show that this captures the reality of today’s British party system. Policy scale placements in British Election Studies from 1987 to 2010 confirm that the pronounced convergence during the past decade has left the Conservatives and Labour closer together than would be optimal in terms of minimising the policy distance between the average voter and the nearest major party. We go on to demonstrate that this comes at a cost. Respondents who perceive themselves as further away from one of the major parties in the system tend to score lower on satisfaction with democracy. In short, vote-seeking parties have left the British party system less representative of the ideological diversity in the electorate, and thus made at least some British
voters miserable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-725
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • representation
  • policy convergence
  • British politics
  • satisfaction with democracy


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