I’m waiting to catch a flight to Chicago where I will be presenting a paper at the Midwest Political Science Association meetings. This trip to the US is largely work based; I presented a paper in San Francisco at the Western a couple weeks ago, and now Chicago.
The Western paper, coauthored with my Ph.D. student Jeremy Johns, examined support for the BNP and UKIP in English local elections. We hypothesized that variation in the number of asylum seekers would in part explain support for these two parties of the far right. Thus, we dutifully collected data on the location of asylum seekers down to the lever of local authority constituency. Unfortunately, however the hell I specified the models, asylum seekers were not significantly related with support for the far right. And I tried.
What is significant, interestingly enough, is the percentage of non-white people living in the constituency. This measure captures both immigrants and indigenous (though not in the BNP sense) British subjects, and it stands to reason that the vast majority of those constituting this measure are indeed British born. While this was a null result on our first pass, we salvaged a good story out of it, and it should place in some lower tier journal somewhere. We concluded with this:
Whatever the reason, these data do not support the hypothesis that variance in the presence of asylum seekers has any influence on support for minor parties of the far right. While immigration could be the driving force behind this support, official data are scant on this measure, disallowing us to further examine it in this direction. Furthermore, immigration itself conflates several concepts; the stereotypical media portrayal of an immigrant being specifically an economic (i.e. unemployed, not contributing to society while subsisting on the tax contributions of others) is not consistent with one of the authors of this paper, a fair skinned American home-owning university academic (and it should be noted that the other, while Cornish in origin, now resides in the south of France). This anecdote can be generalized: as the vast majority of immigration into the UK is from within the European Union, it can be surmised that most immigrants take on the characteristics of the authors rather than the media stereotype.
Perhaps it is telling, therefore, that the measure of the rate of the non-white population, the majority of whom, while not ethnically white, are British born, is consistently significant and substantively important across all five multivariate models.
The Chicago paper is a different thing entirely, and a different co-author (Todd Donovan). We only just finished it a couple days ago. In this, we examine variance in the rise of local tax rates (in the UK it’s called the Council Tax) and its effect on the vote for Conservative candidates in English local elections. Our primary hypothesis is that voters are responsive to tax rises, and make decisions accordingly; yet, they’re also savvy enough to mete out this electoral punishment asymmetrically. To wit: a Labour government is expected to raise taxes, so when they do, they’re not unduly punished. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are expected to hold the line on taxes as this is consistent with their ideology. Hence, when a Tory-run local council raises the Council Tax, they are punished. I included a term in the model that interacted variance in the annual rise in council tax with the presence (or absence) of a Tory-controlled council to test for this explicitly.
Ironically, whereas with the San Francisco paper I was expecting a result, and didn’t observe one, with this paper, we were expecting nothing. It was a good idea hatched over a few beers last summer, but the scant extant literature on the subject suggested we wouldn’t find anything. Yet, no matter what I threw at the models, our central finding holds consistently: when the Tories raise taxes, people get pissed. When Labour raises taxes, they yawn.
This should be a warning to a possible Cameron administration as the next government of the UK will almost certainly have to raise taxes.
Anyway, I’ll be in Chicago for four nights. If any of our loyal and valued readership are also geeky political scientists, geeky enough to attend the Midwest, drop me a line if you’d like a beer. My dance card is already pretty booked, but I always have time for a beer. Or five.