Power & Politics

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  • Created on: 02-06-13 10:58


"Power is the capacity of a man or a number of men to get people to do things they otherwise wouldn't do"

Power is unequally distrubuted if some are more successful than others in acheiving their aim.

Weber identified 2 types of power; authority & coercion. Authority is the exercise of power which is regarded as legitimate & coercion is the exercise of power which is regarded as illegitimate. 

Weber identified 3 types of authority:

  • Charasmatic authority is based on the charisma or personal qualities of the leader
  • Traditional authority is based on established customs & traditions which dictate that certain individuals should hold power. 
  • Rational-legal authority derives from impersonal rules which give the holders of certain positions or offices power over their subordinates.
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Luke's Faces of Power

1st Face of Power

  • Pluralist theories argue that power can be seen from the outcomes of the decision-making process. Dahl argues that 'A has power over B to the extent than he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do'. 
  • Pluralists favour what is sometimes termed the issue method

2nd Face of Power

  • Critics of the pluralist view, such as Bachrach & Baratz, argue that decision-making ignores a second dimesion of power - the ability to control the agenda for debate. In their view, real power lies in the ability to prevent certain issues from being seriously considered. This means that those issues will never reach the point of decision making. 
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Luke's Faces of Power Continued

3rd Face of Power

  • Lukes argues the 2nd face still ignores a 3rd dimension. This view sees power as the ability to shape the wishes & desires of others. 
  • Marxists take this view of power when they see a ruling class exploiting a subject class. Members of the subject class are unaware of this expolitation & unknowingly contribute to it by their acceptance of the ruling class ideology

Further views of Power

Zero-Sum Approach: An approach to power which assumes that the total amount of power in society is fixed.

Variable-Sum Approach: An approach to power which assumes that the total amount of power in society varies according to how effectively power can be used to achieve socially approved goals.

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Luke's Faces of Power Continued

Poststructuralist views of Power

  • A further approach to power is provided by poststructuralists, such as Foucault. 
  • For Foucault, power is exercised through discourses, or ways of talking & thinking about things.
  • Discourses lead use to take certain things for granted & think about things in a certain way, while other alternatives become unthinkable. 
  • Discourses define what is true & real for us.
  • Foucault does not deny that some have more power than others & that discources may serve the interests of the power group in society. He points out that power is most visible when there is resistance from subordinate groups seeking to challenge dominant discourses.
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Pluralist theories of power have their origins in the work of Weber. Weber believed that power was not automatically linked to ownership of wealth. Ordinary people with little or no wealth could exercise power by joining parties - groups of people with similar political goals or interests. By parties, Weber didn't just mean political parties, but also interest groups or pressure groups such as trade unions & organisations such as Greenpeace. 

The idea that ordinary people are able to influence the process of decision making through many (a plurality of) different groups is the basis of the pluralist approach.

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Classical Pluralism

Classical Pluralism

Weber's ideas were developed by Dahl into what has become classical pluralism. Pluralists argue that people have a variety of interests & concerns. These interests & concerns are represented in two main ways. First through political parties, which seek to gain power by putting up candidates in elections with the aim of forming a government. Second, through pressure groups or interest groups - groups which seek to influence those in government to follow policies which they favour.

No one group is seen to dominate the decision-making process. Power is therefore shared among a range of groups. (There is a level-playing field)

Whoever wins the argument has the power - Luke's 1st Face of Power

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Elite Pluralism

Elite Pluralism

Marsh argues that there are issues but some groups have more power than others and therefore the playing field is tilted in favour of the pressure group with more power (inside pressure groups vs outside pressure groups). 

For example, 'GAY RIGHTS' vs The Tories. The Tories are on the inside & therefore have the power to set the agenda. Setting the agena - Luke's 2nd Face of Power, Bacrach & Baratz

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Elite Theory - Pareto

Elite Theory

Elite theorists argue that power is concentrated in the hands of a small minority - an elite. 

For Pareto, the psychological characteristics of elites separated them from the masses. He calssified elites into 2 types - 'lions' who were distinguished by their ability to act forcefully to gain & retain power. And 'foxes' who relied more on cunning & an ability to manipulate people. 

These characteristics that they are born with enable the elites to tilt the playing-field in their favour rather than it being tilt due to gained power as Pluralists like Marsh argue.

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Elite Theory - C.Wright Mills

C.Wright Mills however, saw elite rule as a result of the structure of scoiety which allowed a disproportionate amount of power to be held by few individuals who occupied in key institutions.

Mills identified 3 key institutions: the federal government, the major corporations & the military.

Mills argued that the holders of top positions in these 3 instituions constituted to 3 important elites - the political, economic & military elites. The 3 elites are closely connected. First, because of their similar social backgrounds such as their eduction. Second because they share the same interests.

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The Fragmented Elite Model

The fragmented elite model, put forward by Budge, suggests that there are a number of elites in Britain, all in competition with one another. 

Unlike the power elite, which Mills saw as cohesive, Budge argues that the various elite in Britain are often in conflict.

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Elite Recruitment

Giddens argues that ordinary people can be recruited into the elites. In recent years, sociologists have given less attention to the class background of elites. Some have even claimed that elites have become more open to entrants from all social classes.

Political leaders such as Thatcher & John Major made much of the fact that they has neither attended private schools nor come from wealthy backgrounds. 

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Like classical elite theorists (Pareto), Marx argued that throughout most of history, power has been concentrated in the hand of a few people in society. However, for Marx they are best described as a ruling class rather than an elite.

Unlike classical elite theorists, Marx saw the power of the ruling class as based on their ownership & control of the economic system, rather than their superior person qualities. Capitalists are seen to dominate & exploit workers.

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The State in Capitalist Society

According to Marx, the political system, as part of the superstructure, is shaped by the requirements of the economic system or infrastructure. The institutions, beliefs & values which make up the superstructure serve to maintain & reproduce the relations of production. Marx saw the state as having an ideological role. The state gives the appearance of respresenting the interests of society as w whole, however, in reality, it serves the interests of the capitalist class.

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Ralph Miliband - An Instrumentalist View

Miliband argues that the state is run by a number of elites including the business elite. Members of these elites are often related by kinship & marriage, they have similar social & educational backgrounds and share a common interest in maintaining the status quo. The state acts in the interest of the wider capitalist class.

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Poulantzas - A structural view of the state

Poulantzas criticises Miliband for placing too much emphasis on the social background of elites. For Poulantzas, the state operates in the interests of the ruling class irrespective of who runs it. This is because in capitalist society, the nature of economic relationships & the ideological dominance of the ruing class constrain the choices available to those running the state. This means that in the long run, they are forced to safeguard & promote capitalist interests.

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Poststructuralist theories of Power

Rather than trying to explain power in terms of social structures, Foucault argues that power operates through discourses. A discourse is a way of talking abut something which shapes the way people think, the way they define truth and the meaning through which they interpret the world.

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Feminist theories of Power

For many feminists, politics does not start with parliament, political parties or pressure groups. Nor does it start with ruling elites or ruling classes. Instead, power starts at the person level.

Feminists argue that power differences in everyday life are at their most obvious in the relationships between men & women. They see men controlling women's lives in the home, in the workplace & in the wider society.

A number of feminists distinguish between the private sphere of the home and the public sphere beyond the home. Until the 20th century, women were exluded from many areas of the public sphere. For example, they were not allowed to vote until 1918. In the private sphere, women tend to remain subordinate to men. For example, they are largely responsible for domestic work & childcare, and the use of domestic violence by men to control women remains widespread.


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Ethnicity and Power

Since the 1950's, ethnicity & immigration have been important issues in politics. The influx of non-White immigrants was often met by hostility & discrimination. The state responded in 2 ways - first, by tightening immigration controls, and second, by legislating against racial discrimination.

Depsite evidence of increasing participation in mainstream politics, many members of ethnic minority groups feel excluded from the political process. There is considerable evidence that racial discrimination & ethnic disadvantage remain widespread in the UK. And members of ethnic minorites are rarely found in positions of power & influence. 

It is not surprising that the feelings of frustration, anger & powerlessness generated by this situation sometimes lead to public disturbances and riots.

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The Rise of the State

Some small-scale societies have been described as stateless societies since there is no centralised authority with the power to use legitimate force to support its decisions. In Europe, modern states developed with the decline of the feudal system & the rise of capitalism. Authority was centralised, and only the state could legitimately use force. The borders of states were more clearly define & a greater sense of national identity emerged.

Weber & the state

For Weber, the development of the modern state was part of the process of rationalistation which accompanied the rise of capitalism. Ration action is based on reason rather than tradition or emotion. Weber saw beureaucracy as the insitituion of rational action. It is based on rational-legal authority - on written rules backed by the force of law. Weber belived that the modern state could not operate effectively without beauratic control. The major institutions of the state - from the civil service & the education system to the police & army - are all organised on bureaucatic lines. And this was a key instrument of state power.

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Pluralist Theories of the State

Dunleavy & O'Leary identify 3 pluralist views of the state:

  • The Weathervane Model - The state's direction reflects public opinion & the demands of pressure groups. State policy is therefore shaped by the concerns of its citizens.
  • The Neutral-State Model - The state is seen as a neutral referee, acting in the public interest. The neutral state does not favour any particular group in society - something it shares with the weathervane model. However, the weathervane model is fairly passive - blown in directions indicated by public opinion - the neutral state is more active - it listens to a range of views, then makes a decision in the publics interest.
  • The Broker-State Model - This view sees groups within the state having their own interests & concerns. State officials will negotiate with a variety of pressure groups, & develop policies which compromise between the often conflicting demands of these groups. But these policies also reflect the concerns of the state officials.
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Marxist Theories of the State

Marx saw the state as respresenting the interests of the ruling class. As long as class societies exist, so will the state. Not all Marxists agree on how & why the state acts in the interests of the ruling class. Miliband's intrumentalist approach argues that state officials share the same background & values as the capitalist class & will therefore promote their interests. In contrast, Poulantzas' structuralist approach argues that the state will operate in the interests of capital, not matter what the background of state officials. They have little alternative because capitalism is so embedded in the structure of society.

Claus Offe argues that the state can never wholly suceed in representing capital because it is required to perfrom contradictory functions. According to Offe, the state has 2 main functions: accumulation (assisting capitalists to create profits & accumulate capital and legitimation (making the system appear just & fair to all. These 2 functions can conflict.

Marxists often take a broad view of the state, including a variety of institutions which they see as reinforcing the dominance of the ruling class. Althusser refers to ideological state apparatuses which include the education system, mass media, the law & religion. In his view, their main purpose is to transmit the ruling class ideology which encourages the subject class to accept their position as normal, reasonable & just. 

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New Right Theories of the State

  • A free market, that is a market free from state interference, is essential to the efficiency & smooth-running of capitalist societies. Free & open competition between companies will increase productivity & profits.
  • The state has intervened far too much in the mark. This has had a negative effect, reducing efficiency, productivity & profitability.
  • Similarly, the state has intervened far too much in people's lives. This is a threat to personal freedom.
  • The negative effects of this can be seen in state welfare policy. Welfare benefits are too high. They reduce people's incentive to work & to compete for jobs. And they reduce self-reliance - people come dependent on welfare thater than standing on their own 2 feet.

New Right thinkers argue that the state has taken on too many responsibilities, that it interferes too much in people's lives & intervenes far too much in the economy. Their solution is to 'role back the state'. State control should be minimised. However, critics of the New Right take a different view. Who would take care of the poor & powerless? Who would protect human rights? Roll back the state & society may end up dominated by those with wealth & property.

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State-Centred Theories

Society-Centred Theories - These see the state as reflecting the distribution of power in the wider society & acting accordingly. For example, pluralist theories see power as widely distributed  in society - as a result, the state represents the variety of individuals & groups who share power in wider society. By contrast, Marxist theories see power as concentrated in the hands of the ruling class - as a result, the state acts on behalf of the dominant minority in society.

State-Centred Theories - In constrast, state-centred theories argue that the state has the ability to act independently. It is not simply a reflection of the wider society. It can exercise power in its own right, develop its own policies & act in terms of its own agendas.

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Nordlinger criticises society-centred theories for ignoring the state's power to act independently. He argues that, at times, state policy is opposed to the views of powerful groups in society & the public in general. 

Nordlinger argues that the state often initiates policies for which there is little interest or support. In some instances, these initiatives are unpopular, but the state can sometimes change minds by manipulating pressure group & public opinion.

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Like Nordlinger, Skocpol argues that states have their own priorities & goals. They are concerned with making their own power & control, rather than simply representing the people or responding to the demands of the powerful. 

Skocpol is particularly critical of Marxist theories. She aregues that Marxists have focused almost exclusively on class relationships & ignored the state as an entity in iteself. 

Critics argue that this 'independence' of the state has been exaggerated.

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Naton-state's are becoming more interdependent. They are more likely to be influenced by processes occuring on a global scale. Events in any one society are increasingly linked to events in other societies. Globalisation has a number of aspects which include:

  • Economic globalisation - there has been a rapid growth in transnational corporations (TNCs) - companies which operate in a number of countries e.g. Sony. They can move investment & production from 1 country to another, wherever the economic conditions are most favourable. 
  • Political globalisation - more & more nation-states are becoming members of international organisations. These include UN (United Nations), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and the European Union (EU). International financial institutions, such as the World Bank & the IMF (International Monetary Fund) have steadily grown. E.g. the IMF, has grown from around 25 member to 184.
  • Cultural globalisation - Real-time communication systems have compressed time & space to the point where worldwide communication is virtually instant - for example, e-mail & satellite TV. The growth of TNCs has led to corporations such as Coca Cola, McDonald's, Nike & Mars going global. The world is increasingly bombarded with Western tastes, styles & fashion via advertising.
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Nation-States as too small

According to some researchers, these developments (globalisation) leave the nation-state too small & with too little power. For example, TNCs are primarily accountable to their shareholders, not to the nation-states in which they happen to have their headquarters. 

Global risks - According to Ulrich Beck, we are entering a global risk society. Global risks transcend national boundaries - and the nation-state is too small to protect its citizens. 

Single nation-states do not have the power to deal effectively with major environmental & social problems. These include global warming, pollution, disappearing rainforests, devastating accidents such as oil spills & explosions, diseases such as AIDS, addictions to harmful drugs & international terrorism. 

Many researchers argue that these are global problems which require global solutions - nation-states are just too small to deal with them.

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Nation-States as too big

On the other hand, nation-states have been seen as too big to deal with some of the consequences of globalisation. 

According to Giddens globalisation consists of opposing tendencies. These include new & old identites, centralistion & decentralisation, intergration & fragmentation, homogenisation & differentiation. Therefore, globalisation encourages people to adopt new identities as members of larger social units such as the EU. It can also produce an opposite response - people focus on old identities as a defensive reaction to unwelcome change. As states intergrate into larger social units & power is increasingly centralised, there is an opposing tendency. And as cultures become more the same, there is a tendency for people to strive for difference. According to researchers, the nation-state is too big to deal with some of these opposing tendencies.

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The future of Nation-States

According to Giddens, nation-states do have a future. Giddens sees nation-states as far from out of date. Some of their powers may have been reduced, but they remain the most important unit of power in today's world. Despite forecasting a bright future for the nation-state, Giddens sees a growing need for 'global governance'. He looks forward to global organisations to deal with global problems.

Held sees many nation-states as having little say in a global society. They have little control over their own economics & are often grateful of transnational corporations. Held calls for a new system of global democracy. He sees existing global organisations, such as the UN, as offering a model for the future. 

Sklair offers a less optimistic picture. He sees nation-states increasingly overshadowed by international capitalism & the power of TNCs.

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Forms of Political Participation

Voting - this is usually seen as the most important form of political participation. In recent years, the percentage of the adult population who voted in general elections in the UK has declined. In 2001 general election, only 59.3% of those eligible to vote actually voted.

Party membership & activity - membership of political parties has been steadily declining. E.g. in 2003 the Labour party has around 250,000 members, compared to 400,000 in 1997. Most members are not particularly active, doing little more than placing an election poster in their windown or delivering party leaflets.

Pressure groups & other organisations - large numbers of people are members of organisations which participate in the political process. These include pressure groups which are directly concerned with influencing government policy.

Few people take part in forms of participation which take up considerable amounts of time & effort.

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Who Participates?

Age - there is some evidence which indicates that young people are increasingly withdrawing from political participation. In 2001, turnout in the 18-24 year old age group fell to 35%.

Social class - most political activists come from the upper levels of the class system. They are more likely to have the resources - money, education and 'know-how' - to enter the political arena.

Gender - there appears to be no significant gender difference in political activism. However, fewer women than men become MPs & local councillors.

Political outlook - political activists tend to hold more 'extreme' views - they are more likely to be left-winf or right-wing than in the middle.


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Changes in political participation

Since the 1970s, membership has declined & in recent years, voting in national elections has also declined. However, there is little indication that other forms of political participation are declining. Evans suggests 5 reasons for changes in political participation:

  • Globalisation - many issues are now seen as global rather than national. As a result, pressure groups such as Greenpeace now operate on a global level. And social movements, such as the anti-capitalist movement, are international in terms of their membership, vision & activity.
  • Post-industralisation - this refers to the view that Western societies moved from a reliance on traditional industries such as iron, steel, coal & manufacturing to a growth in the service sector. This has lef to a move away from political parties & trade unions. 
  • The 'strong' state - some researchers argue that the state in Britain is becoming increasingly centralised & insensitive to public opinion. A 'strong state' means fewer opportunities for people to be heard.
  • Changes in the class structure - with shrinking working-class & a growing middle-class, new concerns & forms of protest are emerging. 
  • Party loyalty - people's loyalty to & identification with a particular political party has declined in recent years. As a result, they are more open to the appeal of a range of single-issue PG's.
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Class & Voting Behaviour

Sociologists have argues that there is a tendancy for people with similar social characteristics to vote for the same party. In the UK, social class has been seen as the main social infleunce on voting behaviour. However, evidence from more recent general elections question this view.

Partisan Alignment

Identification with & loyalty to a particular party is know as partisan alignment. 

  • Class alignment - there is evidence that social class formed the basis for partisan alignment. Traditionally, Labour was seen as the party of the 'working man' & the Conservatives as the party of the middle & upper classes and this view was often translated into voting patterns. This link between class, party identification & voting behaviour is known as class alignment.
  • Political socialisation - according to Butler & Stokes, what accounts for partisan alignment & class alignment is political socialisation. Children were socialised to follow their parents' party identification was learned from their parents.
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Class & Voting Behaviour


Dealignment refers to a weakening of party loyalty & identification (partisan dealignment) and/or a weakening of class-based voting (class dealignment).

  • Partisan dealignment - In the 1970's, there were 4 general elections. Less than half the voters consistently voted for the same party in these elections. According to Sarlvick & Crewe, this is evidence of partisan dealignment - a reduction in loyalty to a particular party. 
  • Class dealignment - Sarlvick & Crewe argue that the main reason for partisan dealignment is class dealignment - a decline in class-based coting. 

Reasons for dealignment - Sarlvick & Crewe suggest 2 reasons for dealignment. First, changes in the class structure which have weakened class identification & class loyalty. Second, and partly as a result of these changes, Sarlvick & Crewe argue that people are increasingly guided by part policy rather than party loyalty when casting their vote. 

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Continuing dealignment

By 1997, the ideological gap between Labour & Conservative had narrowed considerably. There were few major differences between their policies and voters recognised this. In 1987, 84% of voters thought there was a 'good deal of difference' between Labour & Conservative. In 1997, this figure dropped to 33%.

This move to the political centre by the Labour Party is seen by a number of researchers as the main reason for the recent continuation of partisan & class dealignment. Similar parties with similar ideologies do not encourage strong loyalties. 

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Other social influences on voting


As full-time wives & mothers, women tended to be more traditional in their outlook. As a result, they were more likely to be attracted to traditional views of the home & family - which used to be a main part of the Conservative policy.

Women have increasingly moved into paid employment. Their experience in the workplace & participation in the trade union movement has exposed them to Labour ideas & values. Labour's move to the centre has made the party more attractive to women. New Labour's focus on health, education & childcare.

Older people are more likely to vote Conservative than younger people. And the life expectancy of women is higher than that of men. As a result, there are more older women than men and this partly accounts for the gender differences in voting. 

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Other social influences on voting


In the 2001 election, as in previous elections, around 4 out of every 5 ethnic minority voters supported the Labour party - 86% of African-Caribbean voters supported Labour comparted to 70% of Asian voters. There are 2 main reasons for this high level of ethnic support for Labour.

Class - Labour represents the working class. 

Party policy & party image - The Labour party is usually seen as more sympathetic towards issues such as 'race' and immigration. This image is reflected in the party membership of ethnic MPs. 

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Other social influences on voting


There is a tendency for younger people to vote Labour & older people to vote Conservative. Also young people are the least likely to vote. In 2001, only 39% of the 18-24 age group voted.

Some researchers argue that older people are more committed to traditional norms & values. As a result, they are more likely to see the Conservative party as respresenting their views. At the other end of the age spectrum, young people are more radical, more open to change and to new idea. They tend to see Labour as close to their views. 

Why are younger people less likely to vote? Some researchers see them as alienated - cut off - from the political process. Alternatively, they are more interested in particular issues, such as animal rights. As a result, they tend to look to pressure groups rathr than political parties to represent their concerns. 

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Other social influences on voting

Regional Differences

Regional differences declined in the 1997 & 2001 elections. Reasons suggested for this include:

  • Further partisan & class dealignment
  • New Labour's ideological move to the politcal centre
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Political Parties

Poltical parties give the impression of representing the interests of the people, but, in reality, they simply serve the interests of the capitalist ruling class. 

For elite theorists, political parties are simply a means of persuading the masses that they have some political influences. But, in reality, soicety is governed by and for the ruling elite.

For pluralists, political parties are essential for democratic government. Competing parties offer a real choice to the electorate. They are the link between the mass of citizens and the state. And, to gain power and form a government, they must represent the interests of the people.

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Functions of Political Parties

Fighting elections - In a democracy, 2 or more political parties compete to form a government. Political parties present a set of policies to the electorate. They choose their candidates & fund election campaigns. Parties can be held respinsible for policy successes & failures - and rewarded & punished for these at the next election.

Policy making - Each party offers a set of policies from which voters can choose. Policies must reflect a range of interests in society.

Forming a governmentIn Britain, the government is formed by the political party with an overall majority in the House of Commons. The leader of the governing party becomes prime minister. He or she selects government ministers & members of the cabinet.

Representing the people - This is often seen as the main function of political parties. Although parties have tended to appeal to particular sections of the population, ideally they should represent the nation as a whole one they form a government.

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Pressure Groups

Like political parties, pressure groups put forward policies and seek support for them. Unlike political parties, they do not aim to form a government. Instead, they try to achieve their objectives by putting pressure on those in government. 

Where political parties have a programme covering a wide range of issues, pressure groups focus on a narrower range or even a single issue. 

Pressure groups tend to represent groups in society whose voices might otherwise go unheard.

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Protective & Promotional Pressure Groups

Protective pressure groups primarily aim to protect their own members' interests. Many economic organisations come under this heading e.g. trade unions, professional associations & employers' organisations. Other protective groups are based on a variety of common interests - sharing the same leisure activity, living in the same area, or experiencing the same illness or disability. Membership of protective groups is usually 'closed' - that is limited to a particular section of society, occupational or professional group.

Promotional pressure groups seek to promote a cause which they see as neglected by the government. Groups concerned with environmental issues provide examples e.g. Greenpeace. Many promotional groups are concerned to promote their own values & morality. For example, there are groups for & against abortion rights, for & against smoking etc. Some promotional groups campaign on behalf of others in society who they see as unfairly treated and in need of help. Examples include Shelter (for the homeless) & The Child Poverty Action Group.

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Inside and Outside Pressure Groups

The distinction is based on the relationship between pressure groups and the government. Insider groups are regularly consulted by ministers & civil servants. They are invited to contribute to the policy-making process. Reasons why certain pressure groups because inside groups:

  • Their expertise is useful for policy making
  • Ministers need the cooperation of certain pressure groups to translate their policies into action
  • The aims of the pressure group are seen by government as reasonable & realistic
  • The activities of the pressure group are seen as reasonable
  • Inside groups are usualy seen by government to be representative of their membership

Outsider groups are less access to ministers & government departments. Many have none at all. Reason why some pressure groups remain outside:

  • Their aims are seen as unreasonable, unrealistic & extreme. 
  • Their methods are seen in the same light
  • The issues they promote are seen as insignificant or unpopular
  • They lack expertise policy-makers require

Some former outsider groups have becoe insiders & vice versa.

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Pressure Group methods

Pressure groups use a variety of methods to further their aims. To a large extent, the methods they use depend on the nature of the group & their relationship with the government.

Contacts with MPs & civil servants - Many pressure groups attempt to directly influence governement legislaton by communicating their views to MPs & civil servants. Some pressure groups have established links & regular contact with particular government departments. 

Expertise & cooperation - Pressure groups realise that they are more likely to influence MPs & civil servants if they have something to offer them. The main things on offer are expert knowledge & advice and cooperation. 

Using the courts - Pressure groups can challenge government decisions by taking a case to court. A court case is expensive, but, even if the pressure group loses, it can raise public awareness about the issue.

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Pressure Group methods

Using the media - Pressure groups often use the media to publicise their cause and gain public support. Pressure groups sometimes use publicity stunts & direct action in order to attract media attention. Most groups now have their own website, & publish their own material. Mant place advertisments in newspapers & magazines.

Direct action - This refers to a range of activities outside the formal political process - legal & illegal, violent & non-violent. Direct action includes protest marches & demonstrations, publicity stunts etc, damage to property & violence. Direct action can show the strength and extent of opposition. It sometimes attracts considerable media attention. It can put considerable pressure on governments or particular organisations. It may bring public support, but it may just bring the opposite.

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Old & New Social Movements

Old Social Movements - were mainly concerned with material or economic issues & were usually class based. They campaigned on issues such as high wages, better working conditions & improvements in housing, education, health & welfare services for the working class. 

New Social Movements - examples include feminism, environmentalism, the anti-capitalist movement and the peace movement. They differ from OSM in the following ways:

  • They are more concerned with non-material issues
  • They tend not to be class based - they draw their support from across class lines& their concerns are not solely directed to improving the position of a particular class.
  • They are likely to focus on a single issue
  • Many are international in their outlook & activity. They have supporters across the world & are concerned with global issues. 
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The Mass Media & Politics

The mass media are 'the means through which content, whether fact or fiction, is produced by organisations and transmitted to & received by an audience'. The mass media include newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the Internet, adverts, books & films. 

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Pluralist theories of the mass media

From a pluralist position, the media are seen to reflect the various views and interests of the wider society. As a result, they present a broad spectrum of political ideas & ideologies. In doing so they inform the public and act as a means of political communication. 

Members of the audience tend to be drawn to those aspects of the media which reflect their interests and opinions. As a result, media effects on the audience are seen as faily limited. They tend to reinforce rather than change people's political attitudes & behaviour.

The pluralist model assumes that media output is diverse - it covers a range of viewpoints & offers the audience considerable choice. Other theories take a very different view. 

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Marxist Theories of the mass media

Marxists reject the pluralist claim that the media present a diversity of political views. Instead, they argue that the media transmit ruling class ideology - a false view of reality which supports the interests of the capitalist ruling class.

Miliband likens the media to a hallucinatory drug which creates illusion & produces a feeling of wellbeing. It is not only political reporting that supports the system. The content of entertainment programmes from soaps to chat shows portrays the capitalist system in a favourable light & diverts attention from the inequalities & exploitation it produces.

The media offer no challenge, no alternatives to the way things are.

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Postmodernist views of the mass media

Postmodernists argue that we live in a media-saturated society - that we are constantly bombarded with media images. As a result, the line between image & reality becomes incresingly blurred. Some postmodernists take this argument even further - media images actually become reality. 

The media do not simply present a single version of reality - they offer multiple realised. News, documentaries, advertisements, soaps & movies provide often conflicting views set in the past, present & future, in this world and in other worlds. And these multiple realities are open to multiple interpretation - people interpret them in a variety of ways. 

Exposure to the multiple realities broadcasted by the media results not in one 'truth' but many. 

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Uses & Gratification Model

This approach argues that audiences use the media in different ways for different purposes. The uses & gratifications model places the audience in the driving seat - they decide how to use the media and what they want from the media.

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Cultural Effects Theory

This approach argues that the media can have important effects on audiences. These effects are not the short-term changes of opinion, instead they are slow, steady, long-term build-up of ideas & attitudes in terms of which people understand the world.

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