Policy or Partisanship in the United Kingdom? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Brexit
30 Pages Posted: 16 May 2019 Last revised: 12 Sep 2019
Date Written: March 28, 2019
Are voters motivated by policy preferences or partisan identities? In this paper, we argue that the British Conservative Party's sudden change in Brexit policy (following the surprising result of the 2016 referendum on EU membership) offers a unique opportunity to study partisanship in the context of a natural experiment. Using an interrupted time series design, we find evidence that voters primarily care about policy: Europhilic Conservatives disaffiliated from the party, while Euroskeptics became more likely to identify with the Conservatives. These findings suggest that voters are sufficiently policy-motivated to change parties if they disagree with them on important issues. But we find that partisan identities do play a causal role in the development of voter preferences in other domains: once Euroskeptic voters joined the Conservatives because of the party's stance on European integration, they subsequently adopted more right-wing policy views on redistribution.
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