British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Expressive Political Behaviour: Foundations, Scope and Implications

Alan Hamlin and Colin Jennings*


A growing literature has focused attention on ‘expressive’ rather than ‘instrumental’ behaviour in political settings, particularly voting. A common criticism of the expressive idea is that it is ad hoc and lacks both predictive and normative bite. No clear definition of expressive behaviour has gained wide acceptance yet, and no detailed understanding of the range of foundations of specific expressive motivations has emerged. This article provides a foundational discussion and definition of expressive behaviour accounting for a range of factors. The content of expressive choice – distinguishing between identity-based, moral and social cases – is discussed and related to the specific theories of expressive choice in the literature. There is also a discussion of the normative and institutional implications of expressive behaviour.

(Online publication February 11 2011)


* Politics – School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester (email:; and Department of Economics, University of Strathclyde, respectively. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at a conference on Economics and Democracy held at ANU, Canberra, Australia, in December 2008 and at several seminars. The authors acknowledge helpful comments from participants and particularly from Geoffrey Brennan, Keith Dowding, Bob Goodin, Tim Besley, Nick Baigent and Arye Hillman, and also comments from three referees and from the Editor, Hugh Ward.