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Re-evaluating the Valence Model of Political Choice*

Geoffrey Evans and Yekaterina Chzhen

Political Science Research and Methods, 2016, vol. 4, issue 1, 199-220

Abstract: The influential valence model of voting developed over the last decade by the British Election Study (BES) team assumes that party and leadership performance evaluations have a causal impact on party choice. An alternative perspective argues that such performance evaluations are instead the consequences of party choice. This article examines the analytical and empirical underpinnings of the BES valence model and compares it to the party-driven approach. To do so, it estimates cross-lagged structural equation models of the association between Labour Party preference and evaluations of the Labour government's performance during the 2005–10 British electoral cycle. It shows that party preference has a stronger effect on performance evaluations than vice versa; performance evaluations have no significant effect on party preference toward the end of the electoral cycle. The study also finds that, contrary to claims made concerning their merits as simplifying heuristics, performance assessments have no impact on short-term movements in party choice for less politically attentive voters. To a substantial degree, evaluations of party performance express—rather than explain—party choice, and would appear to have limited merit as simplifying heuristics.

Date: 2016
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