British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Election Timing in Majoritarian Parliaments

a1 Department of Politics, New York University.


I propose and test an informational theory of endogenous election timing. I assume leaders have more accurate estimates of future outcomes than citizens. The prospect of declining future performance spurs leaders to call early elections. Since leaders condition their timing decisions on their expectations of future performance, early elections signal a leader's lack of confidence in future outcomes. The earlier elections occur, relative to expectations, the stronger the signal of demise. Using data on British parliaments since 1945, I test hypotheses relating the timing of elections, electoral support and subsequent economic performance. As predicted, leaders who call elections early, relative to expectations, experience a decline in their popular support relative to pre-announcement levels.


a An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 2000. I am extremely grateful for the helpful suggestions and comments of several anonymous referees, Chris Achen, Larry Bartels, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Geoff Garrett, Gary King, Fiona McGillivray and audiences at the 1999 and 2000 APSA meeting, Yale University, New York University and the 2000 Wallis Political Economy meeting at Rochester NY. I thank Jana Kunicova, Julien Orenbuch and Jun Saito for their research assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the National Science Foundation, Grant #SES-9975352.