When are governing parties more likely to respond to public opinion? The strange case of the Liberal Democrats and tuition fees

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Parties in government are widely expected to be broadly responsive to public opinion. However, history is littered with examples of governments pursuing unpopular courses of action. This article explores how public opinion influences elite decision-making by tracing the process behind the Liberal Democrats’ notorious U-turn on tuition fees. Interviews with the politicians and advisers who took the decision reveal that the party’s policy priorities in government owed more to the preferences of elite decision-makers than to the preferences of the party’s supporters. They also provide evidence that selective perception compromised elites’ ability to anticipate voters’ reactions. The findings demonstrate that it cannot be assumed that parties in office will prioritise vote-seeking goals above policy-seeking goals.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Politics
Early online date18 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020