A-Level Politics: Class influence in Voting Behaviour

Post length: 698 words, just over 3 minutes.

One final short AS-Level Politics essay again regarding voting behaviour. This essay talks at greater length about one factor: social class. From 2003 and running to only about 660 words. All of my school work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.

How Important is class in influencing voting behaviour?

While the it cannot be said that class has no influence over the voting patterns of the electorate, the actual level of this influence is by no means certain.  Political analysts do not agree on how much voting behaviours are influenced by class, and the lines of the affect of class and affect of other factors are by no means clear.  In spite of this, there is no doubt in anyone’s view that class has, traditionally at least, had a role in voting patterns.

There are traditional links between voting and class; that the working classes will vote for socialist parties such as the Labour party, and the middle and upper classes (traditional non-manual workers) with vote for more conservative parties.  If this were the case, and class divisions were the only factor affecting voting behaviour, then historically the Labour party would have been the strongest party within Britain – as the majority of the population were working class.  However, it is clear to see that this was not the case.  Therefore, there must be other factors which have an affect on voters choice, which themselves have a greater influence on the electorate, and create some sort of cross class voting, and class dealignment

This dealignment can be attributed to a number of different factors.  One such factor which has been cited is a process of people’s changing perception of their own status and class in society – the theory of Embourgeoisement.  With rising living standards in Britain, and rising pay levels, those who once saw themselves as working class, now begin to feel, and behave, more middle class.  This change in behaviour also affects their voting choices – those who may have voted Labour because of their status as working class, are now more likely to vote Conservative.  While this theory may account for the change from Labour to Conservative in the working classes, it does not, however, account for the loss of middle class Conservative support which has also affected the validity of the traditional Class model.

Even this so called cross class voting idea has been challenged, however.  Anthony Heath and colleagues claimed that instead of the trend being for people of certain classes to vote as if they were another class, it was actually claimed that people were still voting strictly on class lines.  The difference in support for the parties, therefore, was in fact due to the changing class structures within Britain.  Rather that as the working class had shrunk creating a drop in Labour support, than the loyalty of the working class had been compromised.  Simply, that it is the classes had changed and not people’s attitudes within them.

In more recent times, and them 1992 and 1997 general elections specifically, some claim that the class dealignment noted above has gone into some sort of reverse – members of the working classes returning to voting for the Labour Party.  At least one study, though, claims this is not the truth.  John Curtice beleves that the change in support for the party is down to the widening of their appeal – that the party still got the traditional working class vote, but also managed to capture a substantial amount of the voters in the middle classes.  Indeed, Pippa Norris goes to far as to claim that the party made a shift to the centre, and resulted in having a classless appeal.

Whatever the reasons why the Labour party won the 1997 general election, or why voting patterns have changed, no doubt can be thrown on the fact that class is the single most important factor in determining how a person will vote.  Even though in recent years up to 46% of the electorate have broken the traditional class voting patters, it is still the most Important deciding factor – no other has such an over all affect on the result of elections, either throughout history, or today.

Posted on Monday 7th July, 2014 at 8:17 am in School Work.
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Although there are some clear patterns in primacy factors and voting behaviour, it has been proven that the UK’s voters are becoming volatile. These unpredictable votes are those of “floating voters”, voters who don’t have any party loyalties and therefore vote differently in every election. Short term factors such as the election campaign, and the performance of the party have significance as the recent elections have been won by winning over the “floating voters” in important constituencies. The short term factors; known as recency factors, that are important in influencing voting behaviour include the party’s performance, leaders and the campaign. The party must appeal to the public by addressing key issues well. Ensuring fair education, health, taxation and other key issues are important because they are areas that affect all members of society therefore the party’s approach to them is crucial in gaining votes. A charismatic leader can also create a better image in the media which can sway voters towards them. In the run up to the 2010 UK General Election, the Sun newspaper ran the headline ‘Labour’s Lost it’, letting readers know it had switched its support from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party. Consequently, readers of the sun were more inclined to shift conservative too.

Therefore, I don’t believe primacy factors are as influential on voting behaviour as the once were. It is clear that recency factors now play a much bigger role in shaping the way we vote.

Posted on 19th Oct 2014 at 6:02 pm by Lucy Smith.

You are absolutely right. Bearing in mind both this essay, and my other relating to wider influences on voting behaviour, are now 11 years old, there have no doubt been some very notable shifts in voting patterns. No more visible is this than in the case of the Liberal Democrats in the last general election and the curent (possibly more media-perceived than manifests itself at the ballot box) popularity of UKIP.

The Liberal Democrats took huge boost from the televised leaders debate: a look at the polling data during the campaign holds this assertion out. There is no doubt to me that the floating element of the electorate were influenced by the performance of Nick Clegg: there was little else other than local councils and a handful of MPs’ performance to judge the party by until then. Prior to that point the party had struggled to gain much general media coverage (as per the status quo of the time, one might argue).

UKIP are currently making a lot of waves. It is argued by the established parties that they are a single issue party rolling on the back of economic uncertainty and playing to people’s fears. If this is true then it not only illustrates exactly your point but also the power of it (albeit with the caveat of it being yet to be effectively tested in a national ballot).

I would speculate that as a generation brought up in a world where one has access to news and information at any time, much of it reduced to headlines and soundbites, becomes the voting majority this short-term-ism will become much more evident and, indeed, influential. Time will tell but it feels to me we’re entering a much more fluid period in British politics.

Posted on 21st Oct 2014 at 9:41 am by Jonathon.

As a quick addendum to my previous comment: Peter Kellner has done some analysis on how the Green Party and UKIP have come out in recent YouGov surveys. Specifically of interest, Kellner observes “British politics has fractured in two ways … Moreover, there has also been a long-term decline in some of the forces that used to give British politics its shape and stability. Social class and political ideology matter far less than they used to.”

Posted on 31st Oct 2014 at 10:53 am by Jonathon.

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