The surveys for the 1983 general election marked the first twenty years' systematic study of the British electorate. The British Election series – originating with the 1963 pre-election Nuffield survey by Butler and Stokes, followed by the Essex series in the 1970s conducted by Särlvik and Crewe, and latterly in the hands of Heath, Jowell and Curtice – yield exceptionally rich portraits of voters and their responses to politics. The growing crop of secondary analyses, tracing changes in the electorate over those years, reflects the continuities of the series. More recently, a number of studies have challenged the ‘Michigan conventions’ central to the first generation of British electoral studies. It is a good time, then, to take stock of our understanding of voting behaviour in Britain. Let us start with what is generally agreed.
* Department of Government, University of Essex. This is a substantially expanded version of an earlier paper published in the series, Essex Papers in Politics and Government. I thank Professor Ian Budge and Professor Ivor Crewe for their comments on earlier versions of this review.