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MPs For Sale? Estimating Returns to Office in Post-War British Politics
Unformatted Document Text:  detailed data about the people those legislators defeated to obtain office. Fortunately, until recently The Times Guide to the House of Commons, a standard reference in British politics, published short biographies of all candidates running for the House of Commons, along with complete election returns, for every general election. 1 Using this rich resource, we created a database of every candidate who ran for the House of Commons between 1950 and 1970 (some 5,729 individuals), a period of close two-party competition between the Conservative and Labour parties. 2 For each candidate, we recorded year (and often month) of birth, a detailed set of biographical characteristics, and the complete record of the candidate’s campaigns during this period. Using the year and month of birth provided in each candidate’s bio, we first searched a public database 3 for the date of death of 2,904 relatively competitive candidates. At this stage we defined “competitive candidates” as those who, not having previously won an election, either won or lost by fewer than 10,000 votes in a general election between 1950 and 1970. This restriction was intended to exclude incumbents, unbeatable candidates, and non-contenders for whom the implicit counterfactual is not well-defined. We found near-certain matches for 665 candidates; we were unable to find a record in cases where the candidate had not yet died, died before 1984 (the start of the death record database), or produced so many matching death records (because of a common name) that we were not able to identify the right one with sufficient certainty. 4 1 A sample entry from the Guide’s 1966 edition is shown in Figure 1. 2 We chose the time period to maximize the number of candidates for whom we could find probate values. The Times Guide to the House of Commons started providing candidates’ ages (or years of birth),which were necessary for finding death records, in its 1950 edition, which prevents us from going backfurther than that. We stopped collecting data after the 1970 election because candidates by then wereyoung enough that a relatively small proportion would have died by now. 3 www.thegenealogist.co.uk 4 To ensure that the rate of false-positives was the same for winners and losers, we did not use public information on the dates of death of MPs in collecting these death records. We created a sample ofpublic figures (scientists, authors, athletes, etc.) whose death dates are publicly available from the OxfordDictionary of National Biography and other sources and whose years of birth match the distribution inour sample of parliamentary candidates. We then trained our death record collection algorithm (a set ofrules for dealing with ambiguous name matches) to maximize the proportion of accurately identified deathrecords in this training set. Cross-validation indicated that we could achieve a Type I error rate of around5%. Once we obtained death dates for our sample of parliamentary candidates using this algorithm, wechecked our collected death dates against the true death dates for successful candidates (which are easilyavailable from public records) and confirmed that we indeed had an error rate of 5.2%. 5

Authors: Eggers, Andy. and Hainmueller, Jens.
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detailed data about the people those legislators defeated to obtain office. Fortunately,
until recently The Times Guide to the House of Commons, a standard reference in British
politics, published short biographies of all candidates running for the House of Commons,
along with complete election returns, for every general election.
1
Using this rich resource,
we created a database of every candidate who ran for the House of Commons between
1950 and 1970 (some 5,729 individuals), a period of close two-party competition between
the Conservative and Labour parties.
2
For each candidate, we recorded year (and often
month) of birth, a detailed set of biographical characteristics, and the complete record of
the candidate’s campaigns during this period.
Using the year and month of birth provided in each candidate’s bio, we first searched
a public database
3
for the date of death of 2,904 relatively competitive candidates. At
this stage we defined “competitive candidates” as those who, not having previously won an
election, either won or lost by fewer than 10,000 votes in a general election between 1950
and 1970. This restriction was intended to exclude incumbents, unbeatable candidates,
and non-contenders for whom the implicit counterfactual is not well-defined. We found
near-certain matches for 665 candidates; we were unable to find a record in cases where
the candidate had not yet died, died before 1984 (the start of the death record database),
or produced so many matching death records (because of a common name) that we were
not able to identify the right one with sufficient certainty.
4
1
A sample entry from the Guide’s 1966 edition is shown in Figure 1.
2
We chose the time period to maximize the number of candidates for whom we could find probate
values. The Times Guide to the House of Commons started providing candidates’ ages (or years of birth),
which were necessary for finding death records, in its 1950 edition, which prevents us from going back
further than that. We stopped collecting data after the 1970 election because candidates by then were
young enough that a relatively small proportion would have died by now.
3
www.thegenealogist.co.uk
4
To ensure that the rate of false-positives was the same for winners and losers, we did not use public
information on the dates of death of MPs in collecting these death records. We created a sample of
public figures (scientists, authors, athletes, etc.) whose death dates are publicly available from the Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography and other sources and whose years of birth match the distribution in
our sample of parliamentary candidates. We then trained our death record collection algorithm (a set of
rules for dealing with ambiguous name matches) to maximize the proportion of accurately identified death
records in this training set. Cross-validation indicated that we could achieve a Type I error rate of around
5%. Once we obtained death dates for our sample of parliamentary candidates using this algorithm, we
checked our collected death dates against the true death dates for successful candidates (which are easily
available from public records) and confirmed that we indeed had an error rate of 5.2%.
5


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