A-Level Politics: Factors Influencing Voting Behaviours

Post length: 1,279 words, about 5 and a half minutes.

Another AS-Level politics essay, this time regarding the factors which influence the way people vote. Dating from early 2003, this essay runs to around 1200 words. It’s published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.

Discuss Three Major Factors Which Have Influenced Voting Behaviours

The way in which the media portray politics and policies, a party or individual’s past performance and, and the personality of a leader of a political party are all factors which can greatly influence the way in which individuals vote. It is impossible to absolutely define why people vote the way they do, but there are a number of factors which can be pointed to which have an affect on voting behaviour.

One of which is the media. The mass media reach, in one form or another, the whole of the electorate, and have a significant influence on what they know, or do not know, about party policy and political activity. The broadcast media reach the widest share of the population, and indeed the majority of voters get most of their political information from the television, but there are controls on what all of the broadcast media are allowed to transmit. Regulations say that all broadcast media must remain impartial in political matters, and where such topics are covered, must present all sides of the argument equally. However, even with such controls in place, it is argued that bias still occurs. One major cause of this is the coverage of governmental activity. When a government makes changes or decisions it is covered by the broadcast media – it is of importance to the public. However, such coverage brings to light the policies of the governing party, and how they have implemented them during their time in office. While not, perhaps, intending to influence the behaviour of the electorate or give the governing party more air time, by reporting such events, it is inevitable. This can, however, work both positively and negatively for the party in government. While changes to taxation, say, might be reported in a positive way and have some influence over the views of the voter, so might a report on internal splits over such a policy within a governing party be seen as a negative thing, and instead damage a voter’s view on the party in question. While the broadcast media has controls over how it represents politics, the print media has none. This means the daily and Sunday papers can hold their own political position quite freely, and attempt to influence the electorate explicitly. The majority of the newspapers published in Britain actively support the Conservative party, and do a lot of their own campaigning for issues which the Conservative party support. The tabloid press particularly push one political view over others in a blatant attempt to swing the political preference of their readers. However much the press promote one party over another, what is unclear is to what extent such publicity actually affects the behaviour of the voters. The press is often seen as being more responsible for helping to re-enforce the views of those who already identify with a political party, than to be a large factor in changing people’s political beliefs. The bias from the press is difficult to isolate from other factors which also influence the public when voting, but it does help to emphasise some other factors – such as any one party’s past performance.

The past performance of a party in government can have a large impact on people’s tendency to vote for them. When people look back on any record a party might have, they can see the affects of decisions taken by them, and make choices depending on how such decisions affected them personally. Just as a shopper may choose one brand over another because of a past experience of one of the two, so a voter chooses one party over another. This retrospective model can be seen to work in both directions – both positively for a party and negatively against. If a party have made a policy decision which has helped a voter in one way or another they are more likely to choose to vote for them, in the same way as if a party has made a decision which has had a negative affect on a voter, they may choose not to cast a vote for them. Most factors which affect voting behaviour through this model are economic ones, and it has been claimed that economic issues are the one main factor which decides elections. Even if the past performance of parties in government and opposition is one of the biggest factors influencing how the electorate decide who to vote for, it is still not as clear cut as that – any retrospective model relies on the electorate’s perception of the past, and this may not always be accurate. Also, it is possible through good campaigning and leadership, to influence people’s perception of the past and so use this model to a party’s advantage.

Leadership, then, can have a big influence on voting behaviour. While it may not be a leader alone who wins an election for a party, they can have a very heavy influence over the result. Even through manipulation of other factors can they help to swing a voter’s ideas. While leadership is only a short term factor affecting the opinions of voters – leadership changes regularly, and even when it doesn’t, peoples views on leaders do, they might be a new and fresh take on issues for a while, but soon become jaded – with the increased volatility of the electorate as a whole, and increased number of floating voters, it can become a very important factor how people vote. Understandably, it is common for voters to look for a strong personality and leadership qualities in a prospective prime minister, and for this reason favour a party with such a leader. Also, as the person at the head of the party is seen to represent the interests and ideas of a party as a whole, people may well listen to what a leader has to say on a particular issue, and vote for the party accordingly, even when they are not voting for that leader themselves. A leader who is seen on television to collapse under intense questioning of the party policies, for instance, may project in the minds of the voter an image that the party policies could not stand up to the rigor of being in power. Weak leadership may have as much negative influence on the electorate as strong leadership has positive. As an illustration then, prior to the 1997 general election, opinion poll ratings for the leaders of the top three parties were very similar to the final share of the vote for the parties as a whole. It is important, then, for leaders to make sure that they come across well in public and in the media, for this is where the majority of the electorate will see them.

There is a whole range of issues which influence the vote in at election time, and it is extremely hard to define which ones have the most affect on the outcome of the election. Indeed a great number of the factors identified overlap in ways which mean they can have a direct affect on each other. This aside though, it is possible to point to certain factors which do have an affect, and to make an attempt to evaluate to what extent they influence voting behaviour. The real reasoning behind election results will never fully be known, but simply an understanding of some of the factors involved.

Posted on Wednesday 26th September, 2012 at 2:30 pm in School Work.
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