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The Dynamics of Third-Party Support: The British Liberals, 1951-79

Harold D. Clarke and Gary Zuk
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 196-221
DOI: 10.2307/2111259
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111259
Page Count: 26
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The Dynamics of Third-Party Support: The British Liberals, 1951-79
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Abstract

Since most analyses of party popularity have focused exclusively on governing rather than opposition parties, interesting theoretical questions about the determinants of party support remain unanswered. One neglected topic concerns support for minor parties in multiparty systems. A study of support for the British Liberal party during the 1951-79 period shows that its popularity varied in response to changes in the macroeconomy as well as systemic and unanticipated political events and conditions. Macroeconomic influences on Liberal support do not conform to the ubiquitous "reward-punishment" model of party popularity, thereby suggesting the limited applicability of key theoretical assumptions in existing studies of the political economy of party support. More generally, analyses indicate that the political characteristics of parties such as the British Liberals work to perpetuate their minor party status. Since many of the forces that circumscribed Liberal support between 1951 and 1979 remain operative today, the prospects of the Liberal-SDP Alliance for "breaking the mould" of British politics are highly problematic.

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