, Volume 155, Issue 3-4, pp 229-250
Date: 13 Jan 2012

How to get the snowball rolling and extend the franchise: voting on the Great Reform Act of 1832

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Abstract

This paper suggests a new approach to analyzing the causes of franchise extension. Based on a new dataset, it provides a detailed econometric study of the Great Reform Act of 1832 in the United Kingdom. The analysis yields four main results. First, modernization theory receives limited support. Second, the reform enjoyed some measure of popular support. Third, the threat of revolution had an asymmetric impact on the voting behavior of the pro-reform Whigs and the anti-reform Tories. While the threat might have convinced reluctant reformers among the Whig politicians—and among their patrons—to support the bill, it seems to have hardened the resistance to reform among the Tories. Fourth, ideology played a critical role. Nevertheless, it also appears that self-interest and political expedience explained the votes of many Members of Parliament.