Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2000
CITIZEN OPINION AND CONSTITUTIONAL
CHOICES: The Case of the UK
James P. Wenzel, Shaun Bowler, and David J. Lanoue
In recent years, political scientists have begun to pay greater attention to political
institutions and questions of institutional change. This article addresses a question
that has been relatively ignored in the literature: What shapes mass opinion toward
institutional and constitutional change? We develop two broad kinds of explanations
of how voters see institutions. One is grounded in a conception of voters as self-interested
actors, and the other considers a more ideological and psychological approach. We
find empirical evidence consistent with both arguments. Using a broad categorization
developed by Tsebelis (1990), we find that part of the answer to how voters see institu-
tions lies in the kinds of institutions voters are being asked about: Different institutions
prompt very different responses from different types of voters.
Key words: public opinion; political institutions; United Kingdom.
As a research topic, the relationship between mass opinion and institutional
choice is a relatively underdeveloped one, despite the rediscovered prominence
of institutions within political science. Current political science research stresses
the position that institutions matter (see, e.g., March and Olsen, 1989;North,
1990;Knight, 1992;Riker, 1982) and, hence, that the choice of institutions
can have enormous consequences. Typically, however, institutional change is
thought of primarily as a concern of political elites and not one in which mass
electorates are important participants. The literature on mass opinion toward
institutional choice is, therefore, not very extensive, especially when compared
to, say, the literature on economic conditions and voting behavior.
There are, however, some settings in which voters get to make actual choices
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1998 meeting of the Midwest Political
Science Association, Chicago, Illinois.
James P. Wenzel, Assistant Professor, University of California, Riverside;Shaun Bowler,
Professor, University of California, Riverside;David J. Lanoue, Professor, Department of Political
Science, Texas Tech University, Box 41015 Lubbock, Texas 79409-1015 (email@example.com).
0190-9320/00/0900-0241$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation