Governments lose elections following economic crises, new research suggests

Governments lose elections following economic crises, new research suggests

Image of sign outside of a polling station


New research by Professor Steve Fisher suggests that economic crises have significant effect on whether UK governments are re-elected following a general election.

The working paper, published in April 2023, argues that majoritarian institutions ordinarily give governments enough power to have a high probability of re-election.

However, governments tend to lose after economic crises, including recessions and currency devaluations, as the public use elections to hold governments to account. 

The study analyses UK general elections since 1922. In the 13 elections that were not preceded by economic crises, the incumbent government was re-elected 10 times. In the other 14 elections, which followed economic crises, the government lost nine times.

The pattern therefore accounts for the outcomes of 19 out of the last 27 elections. 

Professor Fisher adds that a further three elections can be accounted for by governments averting electoral disaster by changing prime minister after a crisis. For example, in 1992, Margaret Thatcher was replaced by John Major, and the government went on to win the election, despite it following an economic crisis.

The paper was referenced in an article in the Independent, which discussed whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the current government will stay in power following the next election - given the economic crisis currently facing the UK.

Professor Fisher noted that his model is designed to help explain the past rather than anticipate the future, but confirmed that the analysis could be used to predict a crude forecast for the next election.