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A bellwether is a leader or indicator of trends. The term derives from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading the flock of sheep. A shepherd could then note the movements of the flock by hearing the bell, even when the flock was not in sight.
In sociology, the term is applied in the active sense to a person or group of people who tend to create, influence, or set trends. In politics, the term more often applies in a metaphorical sense to describe a geographic region where political tendencies match in microcosm those of a wider area, such that the result of an election in the former region might predict the eventual result in the latter. In a Westminster-style election, for example, a constituency, the control of which tends frequently to change, can mirror in its popular vote the result on a national scale.
In the stock market, a bellwether is a stock taken to be a leading indicator of the direction in a sector, an industry or the market as a whole. Bellwether stocks therefore serve as short term guides. JPMorgan Chase is an example of a bellwether stock. As one of the major banks in the United States, it sets the tone for the rest of the industry. JPMorgan Chase also has contracts with companies in other industries, so its performance is reflected in other sectors of the market. Tata Consultancy Services is similarly a bellwether for technology stocks in the Indian markets, BSE and NSE.
In Australian federal elections, the Division of Robertson in New South Wales became the nation's new longest-running bellwether seat, continuously won by the party that also won government since the 1983 federal election.
Previously, the electoral division of Eden-Monaro elected its Member of Parliament from the party which won government at every federal election from 1972 until 2016, when the record was broken after Labor won the seat, while the Coalition won government. The Division of Lindsay in NSW, has elected its Member of Parliament from the party which won government in every Federal election since its creation in 1984 until 2016. Both Lindsay and Eden-Monaro lost their bellwether status at the 2016 federal election, both electing Labor MPs, despite a narrow Coalition win nationwide.
The Division of Makin in South Australia was a bellwether division from 1984 to 2010, although ceased its bellwether record in 2013, when Makin stayed Labor as the Coalition regained power nationwide. Also, in terms of nationwide two party preferred vote, Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Robertson and Makin have bucked the bellwether trend in the past by voting Liberal at the 1998 federal election. In purely statistical terms, the state of New South Wales, which has the largest population of any Australian state or territory, could also be considered a "bellwether", as, until the 2016 federal election the party which wins government has won the majority of House of Representatives seats in that state at every election since 1963. Unlike many bellwethers, these are cited by analysts solely for their record and are not usually attributed to demographic factors that reflect the median of Australia.
In the Canadian province of Ontario, Sarnia-Lambton (and its predecessor ridings) voted for the winning party in every federal election from 1963 until 2011. This streak was broken in 2015. St. Paul's has only elected three opposition MPs since it was created in 1935. Also in Ontario, Peterborough has consistently elected the party which has won the provincial election since 1977. In Alberta, Peace River has elected only three opposition MLAs since the province was founded in 1905.
Since the establishment of the French Fifth Republic, the president was elected by popular vote in 1965 up to 2017, five departments have always voted the chosen candidate in the second round: Ardèche, Calvados, Charente-Maritime, Indre-et-Loire and Loire. No region has done so in the first round.
Since the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany (then West Germany) in 1949, the state where the leading party list vote (Zweitstimmen) matched the party of the subsequently chosen Chancellor the most times is Schleswig-Holstein (with two misses: 1969 and 2005), followed by the state of Lower Saxony (with misses in 1949, 1969 and 2005). Both states lie in the North of the country, neither containing many large industrial cities (the biggest being Kiel and Hannover respectively), nor large rural Catholic populations, the traditional base of the SPD and CDU/CSU respectively. Schleswig-Holstein is also famous for having had several state elections result in a one-seat majority for the winning coalition and Lower Saxony's 1998 election (in which Gerhard Schröder was the SPD candidate) is often seen as a "trial run" for the subsequent federal election (which Schröder also won). Both the 1949 and the 1969 elections were rather narrow, the former resulting in a one-vote majority in the election for chancellor and the latter resulting in a 12-seat majority that had broken down due to defections by 1972.
Ireland has a proportional representation electoral system, in which politicians are elected by the single transferable vote. Bellwethers here can only be measured by the number of candidates from each side elected to Ireland's multiple-seat constituencies that elect an odd number of members. Between the 1981 general election and 2011 general election, Meath and its successors, Meath East and Meath West, have elected a majority of Fianna Fáil TDs in years when Fianna Fáil formed the government, and a majority of Fine Gael and Labour TDs when those parties formed the government.
In New Zealand, there are three generally accepted bellwether electorates: Hamilton East and Hamilton West, both based around the city of Hamilton, and Northcote on Auckland's North Shore. Hamilton West and Northcote missed one election each since they were first contested in 1969 and 1996 respectively — the 1993 election for Hamilton West and the 2005 election for Northcote. Hamilton East, first contested in 1972, has missed three elections — 1993, 1999, and 2005. They were all held by the National Party in the 2017 election although Labour formed the government after the election. Since the National Party was still returned as the largest party in Parliament, however, the two electorates did in fact retain their bellwether status, albeit to a limited extent.
In the Philippines, the winner of Philippine presidential election has won in Negros Oriental in all instances since 1935 except for 1961 and 2016, and in Basilan since its creation in December 1973. After Negros Oriental voted for the runner-up in 2016, Basilan's streak that started in 1978 is currently the nation's longest.
For vice presidential elections, Pangasinan has voted for the winner in all elections save for 1986 and 2016.
In every general election to the National Assembly since the restoration of democracy in 1975, the electoral district of Braga has voted for the party or coalition that has won the most seats in the election. (Note that following the elections of 2015, a minority government was eventually formed by the second-largest party in the Assembly.)
The counties that voted in the first round for the winning candidate:
- Bucharest - 1 miss (2014), from 1990 on. The highest rate (88%, 7/8). The longest continuous streak (6 in a row: 1990-2009).
- Constanța - 1 miss (2014), from 1990 on. The highest rate (88%, 7/8). The longest continuous streak (6 in a row: 1990-2009).
- Alba - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Arad - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Bihor - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Brașov - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Cluj - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Sibiu - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Timiș - 2 misses (1992 and 2000), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8). The longest continuous streak, still active (4 in a row: 2004-2019).
- Prahova - 2 misses (1996 and 2014), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8).
- Ilfov - 2 misses (2004 and 2014), from 1990 on (75%, 6/8).
- Bistrița-Năsăud - 3 misses (1992, 2000 and 2004), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
- Satu Mare - 3 misses (1992, 2000 and 2004), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
- Sălaj - 3 misses (1992, 2000 and 2004), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
- Maramureș - 3 misses (1996, 2000 and 2004), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
- Suceava - 3 misses (1996, 2004 and 2014), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
- Caraș-Severin - 3 misses (2000, 2004 and 2014), from 1990 on (63%, 5/8).
Since democracy was restored in 1977, up to 2019- two provinces have always voted for the winning party (Zaragoza and Huesca). The Autonomous Community of Aragon, where said provinces are located. Aragon is, moreover, the sole Autonomous Community to have done so.
The expression "Som Ljungby röstar röstar Sverige" ("As Ljungby votes, Sweden votes") was coined in the early-1970s, but more recently (2006) voting results in Karlstad, Kalmar and Halmstad more closely resembled the result of the whole nation in elections to the Riksdag.
According to Statistics Sweden, election results in Karlstad have been closest to the national results for three consecutive elections, a fact often highlighted by media through Gallup Polls showing voting intentions in the area.
United Kingdom constituencies have been subject to frequent review since the late-1960s, particularly those of the House of Commons. Few constituencies are unchanged from one review to another. Therefore, true bellwethers are rare. However, it is possible to match new constituencies to old ones according to the destination of the bulk of the old electorate.
Long running bellwether constituencies
- The Dartford constituency has reflected the overall result at every general election since 1964.
- The Portsmouth North constituency, and its predecessor Portsmouth West, have reflected every overall result since 1966.
- The Loughborough, Northampton North and Watford constituencies have reflected every result since the February 1974 general election.
- The Worcester constituency has reflected the overall result in every general election since 1979.
- The Stourbridge constituency, and its predecessor, Halesowen and Stourbridge, has reflected the overall result in every general election since 1979.
- The Reading West, Amber Valley, Norwich North, Hastings and Rye and Corby constituencies have reflected every result since 1983
- The Nuneaton constituency has been seen as an important national bellwether since 1997.
Former bellwether constituencies
- The Gravesham constituency (and its predecessor Gravesend) has reflected the overall result from 1955, with the only exception being 2005.
- The Luton South constituency (and its predecessors Luton East and Luton) had reflected the overall result from 1951 until 2010.
- The Brentford and Isleworth constituency had reflected the overall result from 1979 until 2015.
- The Bristol North West constituency had reflected every result since the October 1974 election until 2017.
- The Lincoln constituency has reflected the overall result from the October 1974 election, with the only exception being 2017.
- The Bury North constituency has reflected the overall result from 1983, with the only exception being 2017.
- The Battersea constituency had reflected every result from 1987 until 2017.
- The Basildon constituency reflected every result from its creation in 1974 to its abolition in 2010.
- The Southampton Test constituency reflected every result from 1966 to 2010.
The constituencies of Cunninghame North, Stirling and Na h-Eileanan an Iar have all elected MSPs from the party which won the plurality of seats in the election overall for every Scottish Parliament election.
Also, the constituencies of Almond Valley, Dundee City West, Edinburgh Eastern, Glasgow Southside, Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley and Mid Fife and Glenrothes each elected an MSP from the largest party in the 2011 and 2016 elections. This continues the trend that their predecessor constituencies (Livingston, Dundee West, Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, Glasgow Govan, Kilmarnock & Loudoun and Fife Central) achieved in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections.
The following constituencies (as of the 2016 election) have elected MSs from the party which won the plurality of seats in the election overall for every Senedd (and former Assembly) election since 1999:
- Alyn and Deeside
- Cardiff South and Penarth
- Cardiff West
- Clwyd South
- Cynon Valley
- Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
- Newport East
- Newport West
- Swansea East
- Swansea West
- Vale of Clwyd
- Vale of Glamorgan
Note that as Labour has won the most seats in every election since the Welsh Assembly was founded in 1999, this is a list of seats which have always voted Labour.
The states with the current longest streak of voting for the winners in the electoral college are Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; their streaks only date back to 2008. The American bellwether states can also be determined in different ways (with respect to presidential elections):
Highest percentage for varying lengths of time
- Ohio – 3 misses (1944, 1960, 2020) from 1896 on (90.6%, slightly "too Republican").
- Nevada – 3 misses (1908, 1976, 2016) from 1904 on (90.0%, slightly "too Democratic").
- New Mexico – 3 misses (1976, 2000, 2016) from 1912 on (89.3%, slightly "too Democratic"). Currently the longest streak of tracking with the national popular vote.
- Florida – 3 misses (1960, 1992, 2020) from 1928 on (87.5%, slightly "too Republican").
Highest percentage for a set length of time
Electoral record of the states for presidential elections, 1896–2020:
- Ohio – 29 wins out of 32 elections (90.6%)
- New Mexico – 25 wins out of 28 elections (89.3%)
- Illinois – 27 wins out of 32 elections (84.4%)
- Nevada – 27 wins out of 32 elections (84.4%)
Smallest deviation from the national average
Another way to measure how much a state's results reflect the national average is how far the state deviates from the national results. The states with the least deviation from a two-party presidential vote from 1896 to 2012 include:
States that were considered bellwether states from the mid-to-late 20th century until the early 21st century include:
- Arizona – Perfect from 1912 to 1956.
- Delaware – Perfect from 1952 to 1996, the only state with this distinction. As a result of massive growth and a move to the Democrats in New Castle County, Delaware (suburban Philadelphia, with the old industrial city of Wilmington), the state has become reliably Democratic. New Castle County had previously voted for the winning candidate in every election from 1936 to 1996.
- North Dakota – Perfect from 1896 to 1936.
- Kansas – Perfect from 1900 to 1936.
- Missouri was often referred to as the Missouri bellwether as it produced the same outcome as the national results in the presidential election 96.2% of the time for the century between 1904 and 2004, only missing in 1956. It is considered to have lost its bellwether status following the 2008 election.
- Washington – 1 miss from 1900 to 1956 (in 1912).
- Minnesota – 1 miss from 1920 to 1976 (in 1968).
- Texas – 1 miss from 1928 to 1988 (in 1968).
- Arkansas – 1 miss from 1960 to 2004 (in 1968).
- Idaho – 2 misses (1960, 1976) from 1904 to 1988.
- Tennessee – 2 misses (1924, 1960) from 1912 to 2004.
- New Jersey – 2 misses (1948, 1976) from 1920 to 1996.
- Virginia – 2 misses (1960, 1976) from 1928 to 1988. Was traditionally Republican at the time. Otherwise, the state was traditionally Democratic. Although the 2012 election was not included in this bellwether run, Virginia was actually the closest state to the national vote in 2012. Donald Trump, however, managed to win in the next election without Virginia.
- Illinois – 3 misses (1884, 1916, 1976) from 1852 to 1996, the most reliable in this period. As the Chicago metropolitan area shifted to become overwhelmingly Democratic, the state lost its bellwether status. No Republican had ever won the White House without taking Illinois prior to 2000.
- California – 3 misses (1912, 1960, 1976) from 1888 to 1996.
- Utah – 3 misses (1912, 1960, 1976) from 1900 to 1988.
- Wyoming – 3 misses (1944, 1960, 1976) from 1900 to 1988.
- Montana – 3 misses (1960, 1976, 1996) from 1904 to 2004.
- Kentucky – 3 misses (1920, 1952, 1960) from 1912 to 2004.
- Oklahoma – 3 misses (1924, 1960, 1976) from 1912 to 1988.
- New Hampshire – 3 misses (1948, 1960, 1976) from 1936 to 2000.
- Colorado – 3 misses (1960, 1976, 1996) from 1948 to 2012.
- Iowa – 3 misses (1976, 1988, 2000) from 1964 to 2016.
States that were bellwether states a very long time ago include:
- Pennsylvania - One miss from 1800 to 1880 (in 1824).
- Indiana – One miss from 1852 to 1912 (in 1876).
- Wisconsin - One miss from 1860 to 1912 (in 1884).
- New York – One miss from 1880 to 1944 (in 1916). It previously had a perfect streak from 1816 to 1852. Had the most electoral votes during the entire period.
In addition, the Territory of Guam has had no misses from 1984 to 2012 (100.0%). Guam has no electoral college votes, but conducts a presidential straw vote on local election day. Also of note, from 1996 through 2012, Ohio was within 1.85% of the national popular vote result. Due to the Electoral College system, a bellwether of sufficient size is often also a focus of national attention and presidential campaigns as a so-called swing state that can decide the election one way or the other. As of 2016, Ohio and Florida are seen by political pundits and national campaigns as the most important swing states due to their large number of electoral votes and political volatility. No Republican has won the presidency while losing Ohio, so election results from Ohio are a good indicator of how successful that party's candidate is. However, it is generally acknowledged that the Democratic candidate tends to have a better chance of winning the presidency without Ohio and Florida. In 2000, the presidential election devolved into a controversial decision in Bush v. Gore which ultimately hinged the contest on a recount of Florida, that – had it gone for Gore – would have swung the Electoral College vote.
The quarterly Bellwether Report, published by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), monitors trends in expenditure in the UK advertising and marketing industry.
- As Maine goes, so goes the nation
- Bellwether trial
- Early adopter
- Peer-mediated instruction
- Swing state
- Will it play in Peoria?
- Sentinel species
|Look up bellwether in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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Political scientists have long regarded 1896 as a seminal, realigning election.
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