The British General Election of 1959

The British General Election of 1959

The British General Election of 1959

The British General Election of 1959

Excerpt

'One of the latest so-called sciences is one called psephology -- flourishing in one of those new Colleges -- the study of how the people voted last time, how they will vote next time; all apparently capable of mathematical calculation, irrespective of the electoral campaign or the issues at stake .

'This sort of political Calvinism (of which Dr. Gallup is the founder) is only redeemed by the recent discovery that their predetermined anticipations are generally proved wrong. The electors do show, from time to time, a regrettable outbreak of political Free Will .'

-- Mr. Harold Macmillan, Oxford Union, December 3rd, 1959

THE 1959 election, like its three predecessors, showed a swing to the right. The Conservative party, already comfortably in office, was returned again with a majority unmatched since the 1945 parliament. But, although the result was clear cut, the contest was not dull. In the manner of its conduct and the implications of its outcome, it was the most interesting of recent elections. It was carried on with an unprecedented air of self-consciousness. The commentaries during and after the campaign reached a new level of psephological sophistication. The discussions of marginal seats and of swing, the use of opinion polls, and the evaluations of canvass returns and of candidates' pulling power were all more informed and realistic than in previous elections. If the press articles of 1955 and 1959 on how to interpret the returns on election night are compared, the scale of this advance becomes plain.

A significant indication of a more analytical approach to the political process lay in the discussion of the 'party images'. This concept achieved general currency during the 1959 election; it reflected an increased recognition that people's votes are influenced by general impressions of the sort of attitudes and men that characterise a party much more than by any carefully drafted manifestos or speeches. Before the campaign, on the Conservative side at least, propaganda was increasingly concerned with ensuring that . . .

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