Public Choice

, Volume 155, Issue 3–4, pp 229–250 | Cite as

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

  • Toke S. Aidt
  • Raphaël Franck


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.


Franchise extension Democratization The Great Reform Act 

JEL Classification

D7 H1 



We thank Omar Al-Ubaydli, Roger Congleton, Mark Gradstein, Hans Pitlik, James Robinson and David Samuels for helpful comments. Raphaël Franck gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Adar Foundation of the Economics Department at Bar Ilan University. The usual disclaimer applies.

Supplementary material

11127_2011_9911_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (178 kb)
Online Appendices (PDF 178 kB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EconomicsUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.CESifoMunichGermany
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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