British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

The Public Thermostat, Political Responsiveness and Error-Correction: Border Control and Asylum in Britain, 1994–2007

Will Jennings*


The responsiveness of government to the preferences of its citizens is considered to be an important indicator of the performance of advanced democracy. This article argues that the thermostatic model of policy/opinion responsiveness can be represented in the form of an error-correction model where policy and public opinion variables are cointegrated, and extends the focus of investigation to government outputs. This models the short-run and long-run equilibrium of interactions between public opinion and policy/bureaucratic outputs. The article assesses the performance of British government – and, in particular, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office – in the operation of border controls and administration of claims for asylum, for the period between 1994 and 2007.

(Online publication July 09 2009)


* School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester (email: The author wishes to thank the Immigration Research and Statistics Service at the Home Office and Ipsos-MORI for data. Earlier versions of this article were presented to the 2006 Annual Conference of the UK Political Studies Association and the 2006 Annual Conference of its Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (EPOP) specialist group, and the author is grateful for comments made by participants at those events. Suggestions from the journal’s Editors and the anonymous referees were particularly helpful in improving the article. Thanks also due to Chris Wlezien, Martin Lodge, Christopher Hood, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan and Ed Page for their comments on earlier versions. The British Academy provided support through the Research Fellowship, ‘Vox Pop? The Regulation of Government by Public Opinion’.