A bellwether is one that leads or indicates trends.
The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.
In politics, the term is more often applied in the passive 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 Australian federal elections, the electoral division of Eden-Monaro in New South Wales has elected its Member of Parliament from the party which won government at every federal election since 1972. The Division of Robertson in NSW has voted for the party winning government at every federal election since 1983. 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. It is the only existing division in the country to have such a bellwether title. The Division of Makin in South Australia was a bellwether division from 1984 until 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. The state of New South Wales could also be considered a bellwether, as 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 Brazilian direct presidential elections, the states of Minas Gerais and Pará are the ones where the winning candidate took the lead in the last-round election from 1955 to 2014. Tocantins, since its creation in 1988, always had the winning presidential candidate winning the state lead in votes.
In the Canadian province of Ontario, Sarnia-Lambton (and its predecessor ridings) have voted for the winning party in every federal election beginning with 1963. St. Paul's has only elected three opposition MPs since it was created in 1935. Also in Ontario, Peterborough has been won by the party who has won the most seats overall in provincial elections since 1977.
Since the fifth republic president was elected by popular vote in 1965 up to 2012, five departments have always voted the chosen candidate in the second round: Ardeche, Calvados, Charente-Maritime, Indre-et-Loire and Loire. No region has done so.
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 more times is Schleswig-Holstein (with two misses: 1969 and 2005), followed by the state of Lower Saxony (with misses in 1949, 1969 and 2005).
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 have only 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.
Since democracy was restored in 1977 up to 2011 elections, four provinces have always voted for the winning party (Álava, Teruel, Zaragoza and Huesca) as one Autonomous Community has done (Aragon).
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.
In the United Kingdom, the Dartford constituency has reflected the overall result in every General Election since 1964, the Basildon constituency has reflected every result since its creation in 1974 and the Loughborough constituency has elected an MP to the governing party since the February 1974 election. Gravesham and its predecessor Gravesend had a perfect record of voting for the winning party or the one with the largest share of the vote in every election from the First World War except for 2005, when they voted Conservative with Labour winning the election. Bristol North West is also considered something of a bellwether, with its voters having elected the candidate of the winning party in every election since October 1974, though it failed to do so on a number of occasions prior to this.
Essex man is used to indicate a stereotypical person in regard to political opinions.
In the 1999, 2003 and 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the constituencies of Cunninghame North, Dundee West, Edinburgh East & Musselburgh, Fife Central, Glasgow Govan, Kilmarnock & Loudoun, Livingston, Stirling, Western Isles all elected an MSP from the party which won the plurality of seats in the election overall. Following boundary changes for the 2011 election, the successor constituencies to all the above seats maintained this trend.
In the United States, 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 1956. It did not match the national result in 2008 or 2012.
The American bellwether states (with respect to presidential elections) currently are:
- Nevada - 1 miss (1976) from 1912 on (96.2%, slightly "too Republican").
- Ohio - 2 misses (1944, 1960) from 1896 on (93.3%, slightly "too Republican"). Currently the longest perfect streak.
- New Mexico - 2 misses (1976, 2000) from 1912 on (92.3%, "neutral"). The state of New Mexico voted for the winner of the popular vote in 2000.
- Florida - 2 misses (1960, 1992) from 1928 on (90.9%, slightly "too Republican").
- Delaware - 2 misses (2000, 2004) from 1952 on (87.5%, slightly "too Democratic"). The state of Delaware voted for the winner of the popular vote in 2000.
In addition, the Territory of Guam has had no misses from 1984 on (100.0%). Guam has no electoral college votes, but conducts a straw vote on local election day. Also of note, from 1996 through 2012, Ohio has been within 1.85% of the national popular vote result.
American bellwether counties include:
- Vigo County, Indiana (county seat: Terre Haute) - 2 misses (1908, 1952) from 1892 on, perfect since 1956. From 1960 to 2004, Vigo County had been within 3 percent of the national presidential vote every election. In 2008, Vigo County again voted with the winner, but Obama's percentage of 57.3% was about 4.4% above Obama's national vote. In 2012, Vigo kept its streak going, voting for President Obama, 49.5% to Romney's 48.6%.
- Bexar County, Texas (county seat: San Antonio) - perfect since 1972. One miss since 1928 (in 1968).
- Hillsborough County, Florida (county seat: Tampa) - one miss since 1976 (in 1992). Although its history as a bellwether is shorter than others, the fact that the county is in a swing state and recent demographic changes strengthen its importance.
- Chautauqua County, New York (county seat: Mayville; largest city: Jamestown) - one missed since 1980 (2012); three misses (1960, 1976 and 2012) since 1952. Historically a Republican county through World War II, the county has become a swing county as a result of demographic changes.
The Redskins Rule is thought by some to predict the Presidential election. In a peculiar coincidence, from the time the Washington Redskins arrived in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in 1937 until 2000, the last Redskins home game before each Election Day accurately determined the incumbent party's fate in that year's presidential election. The rule was not accurate in 2004 or 2012.
In the stock market, a bellwether (barometer stock in the UK) is a stock that is believed to be a leading indicator of the direction of a sector, industry or market as a whole. Bellwether stocks are often used to determine the direction in which an industry or market is headed in the short term. JPMorgan Chase is an example of a bellwether stock. As one of the major banks in the US, 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. Cognizant is similarly a bellwether for Technology stocks in the Indian markets BSE and NSE.
Trends in expenditure in the UK advertising and marketing industry are monitored in the quarterly Bellwether Report, published by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).
- As Maine goes, so goes the nation
- Bellwether trial
- Early adopter
- Peer-mediated instruction
- Swing state
- Will it play in Peoria?
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- Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections See individual state presidential results county maps. County maps available without a subscription from 1960 - present.
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- Handbook of Texas Online - Bexar County
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- In Race to 270, It May Come Down to 106 Counties. Associated Press. Retrieved October 22, 2012.