AQA Government and Politics AS - Voting Behaviour

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Voting Behaviour
A: The Study of Voting Behaviour
About three-quarters of the electorate turn out to vote at a general election; most of the rest choose
to deliberately not vote.
Before the study of voting behaviour (psephology) developed in the 20th century, voting was seen as
an individual act by electors who weighed up the differing policies offered by the parties and then
made a rational decision based on individual advantage, and perhaps on what was best for the
country as a whole.
However, this idealised picture was challenged by the introduction of more rigorous methods of
investigation. As a result, several theories (known as models) have been put forward to explain
voting behaviour.
B: The Era of Alignment, 1945-1970
The classic picture of British voting behaviour, which was valid up to around 1970, proposed that
social class was the main determinant of voting behaviour. The connection between class and a party
became explicit with the rise of the Labour party in the early 20th century.
The Labour party used the language of class in its appeal, claiming to represent and speak for the
working class. It also had close links with the Trades Unions, and had a strong working class element
within its leadership.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives continued to win the support of nearly a quarter of working class
voters (since the 1867 Reform Act, the Conservatives had substantial working class support) and as
such were able to win general elections.
During the period between 1945 and (circa) 1970, the British electorate is seen by psephologists as
being aligned ­ it was divided into two great voting blocs providing reliable and stable support for
the Conservatives and Labour, based largely on partisan and class alignment.
i) Norm Voters:
a) Partisan Alignment
Partisan alignment is where voters associate themselves with a particular party by thinking of
themselves as supporters of and identifying with that party. Up to circa 1970, the overwhelming
majority of voters said they did support a party and most of these said that supported either Labour
or Conservative.
It was widely felt that millions of British voters stayed loyal to one party for long periods of time,
perhaps even their whole lives, as the image of that party fitted their own social location (class) and
conditions (lifestyle).
ii) Deviant Voters:
Even at the height of the period of aligned voting, it was obvious that there were many deviant
voters, i.e. people who voted for the party of "the other class"; working class people voting
Conservative and middle class Labour voters.

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Working Class Conservatives
For most of the twentieth century, the working class outnumbered the middle class. Despite this, for
most of this period Britain had Conservative governments. To win so many elections and remain in
office the Conservative obviously needed and obtained substantial working class support, whereas
Labour would have been the "natural" party of government had it won the support of the entire
working class.
Several explanations of the phenomenon of the working class Conservative have been put forward:
1.…read more

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However, a far more likely explanation was that it was not conversions to the Conservatives, but that
it was changes in the composition of the middle class. Social change in post-war Britain led to a
massive expansion of the middle class, as the public sector grew.
Many people in central and local government and the caring professions (healthcare, teaching, social
services) who were classed as middle class (based on the chart) came from working class
backgrounds.…read more

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Voters' Perception of Parties' Failings ­
Voters' perception of the lack of success of both parties in government and in opposition
may be a significant factor in weakening party identification.
3. Rejection of Party Policies ­
Research has suggested that supporters have rejected particular policies of "their" parties.…read more

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­ without this decision being made, many
commentators believe that Labour would have been condemned to permanent electoral
ii) The Consequences of Dealignment:
a) Volatility of the Electorate
The process of partisan and class dealignment have produced a highly volatile electorate with a
diminished core of support upon which the parties can rely. This in turn means that the stable and
predictable party system of the 1950s and 1960s has been replaced by a highly unstable and
unpredictable party system.…read more


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