Industry or Class Cleavages over Trade Policy? Evidence from the BritishGeneral Election of 1923

Douglas A. Irwin

NBER Working Paper No. 5170
Issued in July 1995
NBER Program(s):International Trade and Investment

Economists and political scientists have frequently attempted to determine whether trade policy-related political action takes place along factor-lines (such as capital versus labor, as implied by the Stolper-Samuelson theorem) or along industry-lines (as implied by models with imperfect factor mobility). This paper examines voting patterns in the British general election of 1923, an election that hinged on free trade versus protection. The election provides an opportunity to distinguish between the two hypotheses because either an industry or a factor alignment among voters is plausible: rigidities in the interwar labor market have often been discussed, and electoral politics has often been viewed as having a class basis. This paper exploits data from the British census of 1921, which divides the population into categories of occupation (by industry) and categories of economic class (by income and/or skill level), and relates these data to cross-country variation in voting for the contending political parties. The results indicate that county differences in the occupational structure of the electorate account for the election outcome better than differences in class structure.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5170

Published: Political Economy of Trade Policy: Essays in Honor of Jagdeesh Bhagwati, Robert Feenstra, Gene Grossman and Douglas Irwin eds., (MIT Press, 1996).

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