The Local Economy and
the Local Voter
The previous chapter examined the influence of voters' conversations with friends and families. However, voters are also exposed to other spatially structured sources of political information. For instance, most of us are aware of the state of our localities: are the roads repaired, do local services work well or badly, and how is the local economy performing? Even those with few local friends or contacts are exposed to this information, through the local media and through their daily lives.
Information about social and economic conditions carries potentially powerful political cues, and claims about parties' abilities to deliver prosperity are a regular feature of election campaigns. Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan rode the post-war boom to re-election in 1959 by claiming Britain had 'never had it so good'. In 1979, another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, fought a successful campaign that emphasized the Labour government's economic failings: the Conservative's most noted advertising poster depicted a long queue of the unemployed and the slogan 'Labour isn't working'. More recently, in 1997, New Labour played successfully on discontent over the competence of the Conservative government, claiming (in their campaign song) 'things can only get better' (an assertion they claimed to have fulfilled in their 2001 and 2005 re-election campaigns: Dorling et al., 2002).
What is more, social and economic conditions vary from place to place: some regions are more affluent than others. Even within towns and cities, some neighbourhoods are well off while others are poor. A resident of a depressed inner city is likely to have a rather different perspective on life—and on the relative strengths and weaknesses of political parties—than someone who lives in an affluent suburb. Economic geography is likely to be associated with the political geography of party support. It is that association we investigate in this chapter. To do so, we begin by setting the discussion into the general context of the wider economic voting literature. That then provides the basis on which we can discuss the effects of geographical economic variations.
Economic performance is one of the touchstones of modern elections: the state of the economy is held to determine the fate of governments. The 1992