Smoking guns and magic bullets: The 'race card' debate revisited in 1997

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The notion that anti-immigrant and racist voting sentiment underscore mass electoral behaviour has been a familiar aspect of the British political landscape for more than a generation. Although debates persist on the scale and significance of such sentiment, many commentators have agreed that this has been an important influence and effect upon Labour and Conservative electoral strategy for 30 years or more. Indeed, attention has often focused upon the so-called 'race card', a form of shorthand that refers, in particular, to the implicit structural advantage enjoyed by the Conservatives over other parties on electoral issues of race and immigration. This article seeks to place these assumptions in the context of modern party competition. It notes that a tremendous head of steam developed surrounding the race card thesis in the period leading up to the 1997 general election. Furthermore, a fundamental misunderstanding of the influence of this factor in the 1992 election had only served to confuse the picture. Scant attention has been paid to traditional psephological tests of issue voting and these, the article reports, indicate that the race card argument was shaky even before the 1997 election. Finally, the analysis turns to the relative absence of race card politics in 1997 and presents a range of explanations for this dog that did not bark. The article concludes that substantial reworking of the race card hypothesis is now an urgent question facing academic and press commentators alike.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalImmigrants and Minorities
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes


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