*from “The Bellwether Report” by Diabetes Scotland.
“A bellwether is a leader or an indicator of trends.
In politics, the term often applies in a metaphorical sense to characterize 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 economics, a ‘bellwether’ is a leading indicator of an economic trend.
The term derives from the Middle English bellewether, which referred to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading a flock of sheep. A shepherd could then note the movements of the animals by hearing the bell, even when the flock was not in sight.
The word was first used in the above meaning in the 15th century.
In the stock market, a ‘bellwether’ is a company or stock taken to be a leading indicator of the direction in a sector, in an industry or in the market as a whole. Bellwether stocks therefore serve as short-term guides. JPMorgan Chase is a U.S. example of a bellwether. As one of the major banks in the United States, its stock sets the tone for the rest of the banking 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.
The quarterly Bellwether Report, published by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), monitors trends in expenditure in the UK advertising and marketing industry.
In politics, the term bellwether often applies in a metaphorical sense to characterize 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 have a popular vote that mirrors the result on a national scale.
An electoral bellwether can be a ward, precinct, town, county, or other district that accurately reflects how a geographic region (state, province, etc.) will vote during elections. Bellwethers in the United States typically change every election cycle due to shifts in the electorate. Bellwethers also differ by the type of elections: a midtermbellwether differs from a presidential bellwether or a party primary bellwether.
American statistician and political scientist Edward Tufte and his student Richard Sun defined electoral bellwethers (in the US) into the following categories:
- All-Or-Nothing Bellwether — states or counties that choose the national winner every time. Examples include the State of Missouri and the counties of Vigo County, IN; Lincoln County, MT; Van Buren County, AR; Logan County, AR; Eddy County, NM; and Ferry County, WA.
- Barometric Bellwether — a place that accurately reflects the national share of votes. Vigo County, Indiana, is one example.
- Swingometric Bellwether — a county that mirrors important swings or shifts in the national electorate. Examples include Sandoval County, NM, and Washoe County, NV.”