Skip to main content Accessibility help

Popular versus Elite Views of Privatization: The Case of Britain*

  • Ian McAllister (a1) and Donley T. Studlar (a2)


Privatization is an idea that is popular among political elites throughout the advanced industrial world. In Britain, it has been the centrepiece of Margaret Thatcher's three Conservative governments, reflected in the sale of publicly-owned industries to the private sector and in the sale of council houses to their tenants. Using survey data, this article tests two models to account for privatization policy. The median voter model argues that it was a policy demanded and initiated by voters, while the elite interests model argues that it stemmed from the government and that little popular demand existed for it. The evidence confirms the elite interests model and shows that public opinion has generally accepted the status quo on the public ownership of industry. In addition, the Conservatives have made modest electoral gains from privatization. However, voters are not consistent in their views about privatizating particular industries, implying the Conservatives may lose votes with future privatization.



Hide All
Abrams, Mark and Rose, Richard (1960), Must Labour Lose? Harmondsworth: Penguin
Abromeit, Heidrun (1988), ‘British Privatization Policy’, Parliamentary Affairs, 41, 6885.
Ascher, Kate (1988), The Politics of Privatization. London: Macmillan.
Barry, Norman (1987), The New Right. New York: Croons Helm.
Bishop, Matthew and Kay, John (1988), Does Privatization Work? Lessons from the UK. London: Centre for Business Strategy.
Bosanquet, Nick (1986), ‘Interim Report: Housing’ in Jowell, Roger, Witherspoon, Sharon and Brook, Lindsay (eds), British Social Attitudes: The 1986 Report. Brookfield, Vermont: Gower.
Butler, David and Stokes, Donald E. (1969), Political Change in Britain. London: Macmillan.
Crewe, Ivor and Searing, Donald R. (1988), ‘Mrs Thatcher's Crusade: Conservatism in Britain, 1972–86’ in Cooper, Barry, Kornberg, Allan and Mishler, William (eds), The Resurgence of Conservatism in Anglo-American Democracies. Durham: Duke University Press.
Economist (1985), ‘Privatization: Everybody's Doing It, Differently’ 21 December, 69–84.
Fiorina, Morris P. (1981), Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Forrest, Ray (1988), ‘Spatial Mobility, Tenure Mobility, and Emerging Social Divisions in the United Kingdom Housing Market’ Environment and Planning Series A, 19, 16111630.
Forrest, Ray and Murie, Alan (1988), Selling the Welfare State: The Privatization of Public Housing. London: Routledge.
Gamble, Andrew (1988), The Free Economy and the Strong State. London: Macmillan.
Gillespie, M. W. (1977), ‘Log-Linear Techniques and the Regression Analysis of Dummy Dependent VariablesSociological Methods and Research, 6, 103122.
Heald, David (1988), ‘The United Kingdom: Privatization and its Political Context’, West European Politics 11, 3148.
Heath, Anthony, Jowell, Roger, and Curtice, John (1985), How Britain Votes. London: Pergamon.
Heath, Anthony, Jowell, Roger, and Curtice, John (1988), British General Study 1987: Codebook. Colchester: ESRC Data Archive.
Heath, Anthony, Jowell, Roger, and Curtice, John (1989), The Extension of Popular Capitalism. Glasgow: Univeristy of Strathclyde Studies in Government and Politics, No. 60.
Hemming, Richard and Mansoor, Ali M. (1988), Privatization and Public Enterprises. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund Occasional Paper 56.
Kavanagh, Dennis (1987), Thatcherism and British Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
King, Desmond (1987), The New Right. Chicago: Dorsey.
Letwin, Oliver (1988), Privatising the World. London: Cassell.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S. (1988), Economics and Elections. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
McAllister, Ian (1984), ‘Housing Tenure and Party Choice in Australia, Britain and the United StatesBritish Journal of Political Science, 14, 509522.
Murie, Alan (1975), The Sale of Council Houses. Birmingham: University of Birmingham Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, Occasional Paper 35.
Parry, Richard (1985), ‘Britain: Stable Aggregates, Changing Composition’ in Rose, Richard (ed), Public Employment in Western Nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Richard (1967), Influencing Voters. London: Faber.
Rose, Richard (1989), ‘Privatization: A Question of Quantities and Qualities’ in Fels, Gerhard and M. Furstenberg, George (eds), A Supply-Side Agenda for Germany (Berlin: Springer-Verlag).
Sarlvik, Bo and Crewe, Ivor (1983), Decade of Dealignment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schwartz, Nathan H. (1987), ‘Housing Policy: Converging Trends, Divergent Fugures’ in Waltman, Jerold L. and Studlar, Donley T. (eds), Political Economy: Public Policies in the United States and Britain. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press.
Short, John R. (1983), Housing in Britain: The Postwar Experience. London: Methuen.
Studlar, Donley T., McAllister, Ian and Ascui, Alvaro (1989), ‘Microeconomic Activity and Macroeconomic Evaluations: Mrs Thatcher's Privatization Policy and British Voting BehaviourPaper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.
The Times Guide to the House of Commons, May 1979 (1979). London: Times.
The Times Guide to the House of Commons, June 1983 (1983). London: Times.
The Times Guide to the House of Commons, June 1987 (1987). London: Times.
Veljanovski, Cento (1987), Selling the State. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
West European Politics (1988), ‘Special Issue on the Politics of Privatization in Western EuropeWest European Politics 11.
Williams, Nicholas J., Sewel, John B. and Twine, Fred. E. (1987), ‘Council House Sales and the Electorate: Voting Behaviour and Ideological Implications’, Housing Studies 2, 274282.
Wiltshire, Kenneth (1987), Privatization: The British Experience. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.
Young, Stephen (1986), ‘The Nature of Privatization in Britain, 1979–85West European Politics 9, 235–52.

Popular versus Elite Views of Privatization: The Case of Britain*

  • Ian McAllister (a1) and Donley T. Studlar (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.