Will Jennings

University of Southampton
Politics & International Relations

University of Southampton
Southampton , Hampshire
United Kingdom
SO17 1BJ
w.j.jennings@soton.ac.uk |  Visit Personal Website

Search Google Scholar
Search for Google Scholar Profile

I am Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton. My research is concerned with questions relating to public policy and political behaviour. I have written extensively on agenda-setting, public opinion, electoral behaviour, political parties, and the governance of mega-projects and mega-events. I am a methodological pluralist, using both quantitative and qualitative methods, but specialise in time series analysis.

Jane Green and Will Jennings. (2017). ‘Party Reputations and Policy Priorities: How Issue Ownership Shapes Executive and Legislative Agendas.’ British Journal of Political Science.
Abstract: Election-oriented elites are expected to emphasize issues on which their party possesses ‘issue ownership’ during campaigns. This article extends those theories to the content of executive and legislative agendas. Arguing that executives have incentives to pursue their party’s owned issues in the legislature, it theorizes three conditions under which these incentives are constrained: when governments are responsive to issues prioritized by the public, when a party has a stronger electoral mandate and under divided government. The theory is tested using time-series analyses of policy agendas of US congressional statutes and State of the Union addresses (1947–2012) and UK acts of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech (1950–2010). The results offer support for the theory, and are particularly strong for the US State of the Union address, providing insights into institutional differences. The implications provide reassurance concerning the conditions under which governments focus attention only on their partisan issue priorities.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123416000636
Will Jennings, Martin Lodge and Matt Ryan. (2017). ‘Comparing Blunders in Government’. European Journal of Political Research.
Abstract: Much attention has been paid to government ‘blunders’ and ‘policy disasters’. National political and administrative systems have been frequently blamed for being disproportionately prone to generating mishaps. However, little systematic evidence exists on the record of failures of policies and major public projects in other political systems. Based on a comparative perspective on blunders in government, this article suggests that constitutional features do not play a prominent role. In order to establish this finding, this article (a) develops theory-driven expectations as to the factors that are said to encourage blunders, (b) devises a systematic framework for the assessment of policy processes and outcomes, and (c) uses fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis to identify sets of causal conditions associated with particular outcomes (i.e., blunders). The article applies this novel approach to a set of particular policy domains, finding that constitutional features are not a contributory factor to blunders in contrast to instrument choice, administrative capacity and hyper-excited politics.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12230
Will Jennings, Stephen Farrall, Emily Gray and Colin Hay. (2017). ‘Penal Populism and the Public Thermostat: Crime, Public Punitiveness and Public Policy.’ Governance 30(3): 463-481.
Abstract: This article makes the case that feedback processes in democratic politics—between crime rates, public opinion, and public policy—can account for the growth of penal populism in Britain. It argues that the public recognize and respond to rising (and falling) levels of crime, and that in turn public support for being tough on crime is translated into patterns of imprisonment. This contributes to debates over the crime–opinion–policy connection, unpacking the dynamic processes by which these relationships unfold at the aggregate level. This uses the most extensive data set ever assembled on aggregate opinion on crime in Britain to construct a new over-time measure of punitive attitudes. The analysis first tests the thermostatic responsiveness of punitive attitudes to changes in recorded crime rates as well as self-reported victimization, and then examines the degree to which changes in mass opinion impact on criminal justice policy.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gove.12214
Will Jennings and Christopher Wlezien. (2016). ‘The Timeline of Elections: A Comparative Perspective.’ American Journal of Political Science 60(1): 219-233.
Abstract: How do voter preferences come into focus over the electoral cycle in different countries? Do they evolve in patterned ways? Does the evolution vary across countries? This article addresses these issues. We consider differences in political institutions and how they might impact voter preferences over the course of the election cycle. We then outline an empirical analysis relating support for parties or candidates in pre-election polls to their final vote. The analysis relies on over 26,000 vote intention polls in 45 countries since 1942, covering 312 discrete electoral cycles. Our results indicate that early polls contain substantial information about the final result but that they become increasingly informative over the election cycle. Although the degree to which this is true varies across countries in important and understandable ways given differences in political institutions, the pattern is strikingly general.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12189
Green, Jane and Will Jennings. (2017). The Politics of Competence: Parties, Public Opinion and Voters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Abstract: Using decades of public opinion data from the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Canada, and distinguishing between three concepts - issue ownership, performance and generalised competence - Green and Jennings show how political parties come to gain or lose 'ownership' of issues, how they are judged on their performance in government across policy issues and how they develop a reputation for competence (or incompetence) over a period in office. Their analysis tracks the major events causing people to re-evaluate party reputations and the costs of governing which cause electorates to punish parties in power. They reveal why, when and how these movements in public opinion matter to elections. The implications are important for long-standing debates about performance and partisanship, and reveal that public opinion about party and governing competence is, to a great extent, the product of major shocks and predictable dynamics.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316662557

Substantive Focus:
Economic Policy
Governance SECONDARY
Comparative Public Policy PRIMARY
Urban Public Policy

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation SECONDARY
Public Opinion PRIMARY