This research was generously supported by the National Science Foundation (SBR-99-75352)
and the Georg Leitner Program in International Political Economy.
In many parliamentary systems the timing of the
next election is at the discretion of the current
government. Leaders need not wait until the end of their term, rather
they are free to call
elections when it is advantageous to them-- when they expect to win.
This proposal outlines a
theoretical and empirical research design to explore when governments
call elections and how
the timing of elections influences the electoral result.
The decision to call an election is modeled using
game theory. At each stage leaders must choose
between calling an election or waiting. If they wait then the voters
get a further opportunity to
assess the government's performance. Thus, a popular government that
waits risks having its
popularity undermined by poor outcomes.
The decision to call an election rather than wait
depends upon a leader's beliefs about her
electoral future. Suppose that the incumbent leader is currently popular
and trying to decide
whether to call an early election. If the leader believes that her
party is competent and has the
appropriate policies to address her nation's problems then she risks
little by waiting. Her party is
likely to perform well which enhances, rather than diminishes, her
electoral fortune. Yet, for a
leader less confident in her abilities, waiting jeopardizes her electoral
poor performance, she expects her future popularity is likely to decline
if she waits. Hence it is
the least competent leaders, those who do not expect to perform well,
that have the greatest
incentive to call an early election.
The inherent feature of the model is that leaders
choose whether to call elections based on their
expectations about future performance. This modeling platform is flexible
to a variety of
assumptions. One modeling choice is that a leader's expectation could
be simply based on her
assessment of government competence. Alternatively, a leader's beliefs
could stem from early
access to information. A particularly important form of this is when
the government has
manipulated policy instruments for short term gains (political business
Although it is the least competent leaders that
always have the strongest incentive to call an early
election, there are conditions under which even competent leaders do
not want to delay. These
conditions, such as size of majority, unity of opposition, and level
of public opinion, generate
hypotheses about when early elections are likely to occur. Whether
these factors do indeed hasten
elections can be empirically tested using duration analysis.
Since the least competent leaders are the ones with
the least incentive to wait, elections called
earlier than the public expects signal the incumbent's doubts about
future performance. In terms
of the empirical model, when elections occur much earlier than anticipated,
i.e. the estimated
hazard is low, then the government is likely to suffer a decline in
popular support. In addition,
the theory also predicts that government performance is likely to be
poor following unexpectedly
early elections. This project provides more than empirical estimates
of when elections occur, it
develops and tests theoretical linkages between election timing,
government performance and
Election Timing. Alastair Smith. 2004 Cambridge University Press
“Election Timing in Majoritarian Parliamentary Systems” Alastair Smith.
2003. British Journal of Political Science, 33,
"Endogenous Election Timing in Majoritarian Parliamentary Systems" Alastair
Smith. 1996. Economics and Politics Vol.8 No.
2 p. 85-110.
The data relate to the timing of British General Elections. The bulk
of the data spans the period August 1st 1945 to June 13th 2001.
The following archives contain the data and code for the analysis in
the above book (This data is an update of that used in the paper.) The
ReadMe.txt file outline the basic structure of the data and files.
The archive workdata_2001.zip
contains the main data file in STATA 7 format.
The archive Election_timing_data2001.zip
contains all the individual data files required to assemble the main data.
For example, there are separate data files for the key political events,
change in seat shares, change in party allegiances, public opinion, files
for various economic measures, and various stock data files. The archive
also contains code which contructs these the main data file from these
individual files. It is much easier to update these individual files and
recompile the main data file rather than try and directly update the main
The archives newspaper_stories.zip
contain the newspaper count data. These data are counts of the number of
newspaper stories relating to next election. The first archive is compiled
from three different newspapers (The Financial Time, The Guardian and The
Independent) using Lexis/Nexis. The second archive is complied from "The
Official Index to The Times, 1906-1980" which is available in an electronically
searchable form at Historical Newspapers Online (http://historynews.chadwyck.com/).
The archive Election_timing_analysis_2001.zip
contains STATA 7 do.files that will replicate all the analysis in the book
If you use these data you should feel obligated
to cite the original sources for the data (all contained in the manuscript
above). Further, I would appreciate it if you provide me with any updates
and/or corrections. The data come 'as is' with guarantees. Please keep
me updated if you find any interesting results or glaring errors in the