British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

The Undoing of Winston Churchill: Mobilization and Conversion in the 1945 Realignment of British Voters

Mark Franklin and Matthew Ladner*

We explore the reasons for the unexpected defeat of Winston Churchill's Conservatives by Labour in the British general election of 1945. Was the outcome a result of Churchill's election campaign errors, as many have supposed, or did the coming-of-age of a new political generation make it a foregone conclusion? Much controversy in the partisanship literature centres on whether electoral realignments result primarily from conversion of existing voters or from mobilization of previously non-voting individuals. In particular, the 1930s US realignment has been the focus of considerable debate. In this article we shed new light on realignment processes by examining the 1945 British realignment that brought the Labour party to power. We find that, in this more straightforward case, the critical impetus came from new voters rather than from converts. Our findings raise questions that need to be confronted in the analysis of other realignments, such as that accompanying the American New Deal. They also shed new light on a much-interpreted episode in British electoral history.


* Department of Political Science, University of Houston. This is a revised version of a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, 1992. The authors would like to thank Ivor Crewe, Robert Erikson, Tim Fackler, Richard Matland, Susan Scarrow, Michael Taylor, Christopher Wlezien and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier drafts.