Voting Behaviour

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Class and Voting

People vote according to their objective class interests. Traditionally, class is seen in occupational terms, with those in manual jobs seen as working class (whom are expected to vote for the Labour Party) whilst those in non-manual jobs, seen as the middle and upper class, are expected to vote for the Conservatives.

Between 1945 and 1970 a majority of people belonged to the working class - with this said, Labour should have won every election. This clearly did not happen, so some of the working class may have not bothered to vote or there was some degree of cross-voting with more manual worker not voting Conservative - or both. 

Figures show that from 1945, a third of the working class vote has gone to the Conservatives 

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After WW2, various explanations were offered for working-class Conservative voting.

One argument concerned people's perceptions of their own status or class position in society.

  • If they view themselves as middle class rather than working class, they are more likely to vote Conservative. 
  • This is associated with the theory of embourgeoisement - the idea that, because of rising pay levels and living standards, the attitudes and behaviour of better-off manual workers become more like those of the middle class 

In 1960a study saw no systemic evidence to support this theory. Instead, the authors found a more significant correlation - non-Labour support of manual workers was higher amongst those who has friends or connections with non-manual/white collar employers. 

  • Consistent with this finding is the argument that manual workers living outside the traditional, single-industry, working-class communities described as the "dominate value system" and, therefore, less likely to vote Labour 
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Deferential and Secular Conservatives

McKenzie and Silver distinguished between "deferential" and "secular" working class Conservative voters.

  • The "deferential"  to the traditional authority represented by Conservative leaders who are seen as Britain's "natural leaders." 
  • "Secular" working class vote Conservatives not because they are enthusiastic supporters of Conservative values, but because they believe they will be better off, particularly financially, with a Conservative government. They are secular Conservatives because they are not true believers in Conservative ideology 
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Class De-alignment

The voting patterns between 1945-1970 seemed to indicate quite strong class alignment, with nearly 2/3rds of all voters voted for their "natural class" party. However since 1970 a number of political scientists have claimed that a process of class dealignment has taken place. This can be argued due to the link between occupational class and party preference at election times has diminished. 

Ivor Crewe (1993):

"In the 1945-70 period, nearly two-thirds of all voters voted for their class party. From Feb 1974, the link slowly and fitfully weakened and, since 1983, the proportion has been under half (44%) with a majority voting for either the "class enemy" or for the non-class centre or nationalists parties. This trend should not be exaggerated, however: class reamins the single most important social factor underlying their vote." 

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The Heath Thesis

In 1985, the theory of class dealignment came under attack by Anthony Heath and his colleagues when they published an article which claimed that there was no evidnece that there had been a fall in working-class loyalty to the Labour Party and that the proporition of members of the working class voting Labour had fallen. 

Rather, the overall decline in the Labour vote reflected a reduction in the size of the working class as a whole. Class alignment was still important but the balance of the classes had changed. The long-term pattern in class voting was one of "trendless flutuation" rather than inevitable decline. 

There needs to be a firm definition of "class" in order to debate whether class dealignment has happened. Whereas conventional accounts used a simple manual/non-manual defintion, Heath splits them into 5 different categories - groups are distinguished according to their degree of economic security, their authority in the workplace, prospects of economic advancement and their sources as well as their level of income. 

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Class and 2010 General Election

A - upper class, B - middle class, C1 - upper working class, C2 - lower working class, D/E - temporarily or long-term unemployed 

  • In the 2010 General Election the Conservatives gained from all groups with the exception of the lowest class DE which stayed Labour.
  • ABC1 (grouped together) had a 39% vote for the Conservatives while Labour had 27%.
  • In the C2 class 37% voted Conservative compared to 29% for Labour, and in the DE group 31% voted Conservative and 40% Labour.

 In terms of class voting the 2010 General Election is highly significant because patterns of voting behaviour among AB, C1 and C2 voters are virtually identical or, putting it another way , social class differences in voting behaviour between AB, C1 and C2 voters have virtually disappeared. 

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Explanations of Class Dealignment

1. Party Dealignment 

Some explanations of class dealignment are associated with the related phenomenon of party dealignment and require a consideration of, for example, the role of education, media coverage, ideological changes and dissatisfaction with party preference. 

2. Changes in occupational structure 

Since 1960's there have been important changes in the structure and pattern of employment in UK. A process of "de-industrialisation" has taken place which gathered pace since 1979 an it is, perhaps, no surprise that it has affected the way in which people vote.

Since then, several millions of voters have either lost their jobs or found work in new hi-tech or service industries. e.g. the role of trade unions (if tolerated) is often reduced. As a result, the old ties between workers and the Labour Party has been broken - leading to class dealignment (28% of the workforce in 1992 were trade union members)

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Explanations of Class Dealignment

3. Production and Consumption Cleavages 

Dunleavy and Husbands (1985( argue that the significance of the old manual/non-manual class divisions is being replaced by new sectoral cleavages based on public-private splits. They distinguish between

  • production sector cleavages - refers to the real or assumed conflicts of interest between employees in the public sector and those in the private sector. It is argued that thsee cleavages have result in the development of new political alignments, largely irrespective of whether employees are in manual or non-manual occupations 
  • consumption sector cleavages - refers to changes in the ways in which certain services are purchased or provided. Two important examples are housing and transport 
    • Together, these consitute a significant proportion of most people's dispoable incomes. It is argued that the policies of Conservative governments between 79 and 97 led to the growth of privately owned housng and a greater emphasis on personal rather than public transport. 
  • This created new alignemnents relating party choice to patterns of consumption - these new alignments cut across manual/non-manual class alignments 
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Explanations of Class Dealignment

4. The "traditional" and "new" working class

There are some simularities between the dieas of Dunleavy and Husbands and those of Ivor Crewe. Following the major defeat of Labour at the 1983 General election, Crewe focused on what he saw as divisions within the working class. Crewe found that 38% of manual workers voted Labour, claiming that the party could only rely on the shrinking traditional working class and it was losing the support of the "new" working class.

  • Those who belonged to the traditional working class were predominately people who lived in Scotland and the North of England and those in others areas who lived in council houses or worked in the public sector. 
  • Those who belonged to the new working class were manual workers employed by private firms who lived mainly in the South and owned their own houses. 

Following the 1987 G.E, Crewe pursued his theory of a divided working class and he brought union membership into the equation. But although the Conservatives still won the 1992 election, the overall swing to Labour from 1987 seemed to have reversed any polarisation between the new and traditional working classes. 

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Other Social Factors - Regional Differences

During the 1980's, political commentators increasingly used the term "North-South divide" to describe the geographical polarisation of support for the Labour and Conservative parties. In general terms, support for the Conservatives appears to be declining in the North of England, Scotland and Wales whilst Labour support declined in the South. 

  • In 2001, the southern part of England voted 56.3% for the Conservative Party whilst the north of England, Scotland and Wales voted 82.4% in favour of the Labour Party. This pattern may be linked to the industrial past of the UK when heavy industry and links to trade unions were concentrated in Central Scotland, the North of England and Wales
  • In 2010, Labour lost support in Scotland and Wales, generally to the Lib Dems or the SNP
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Other Social Factors - Age

Younger people tend to vote for Labour and older people tend to vote for the Conservatives. Studies have shown that swings within the 18-22 age group can be quited marked, and therefore, no party can afford to take its support for granted. Heath comments:

"The younger electorate tends to be rather less interested in politics, somewhat less likely to turn out and vote, less committed to any political party and somewhat more volatile." 

In 2010, Conservatives received the highest number of votes from people aged 55 and above (41%) and surprisingly received the highest number of votes from people aged between 25-34 (42%). Labour received the highest number of votes from people aged 18-24 (34%) but this group had the lowest turnout of 50% compared to the 55+ which was 76%

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"There is overwhelming evidence that women are more conservatively inclined than men." Pulzer argued that between 1945 and 1966, whilst men had given the Labour Party a victory at every general election, women had done so only twice. 

In 2010, the Conservatives had the highest amount of votes from both genders (M - 38% F - 36%). Labour received more votes from women than from men (M - 28%, F - 31%). 

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Although studies have shown that the majority of black and Asian people vote Labour, different levels of party support have been noted between black and Asian voters as well as differences within each of these groups.

  • Where people from ethnic minorities represent more than 30% of the electorate, 60% of them vote Labour compared with 23% voting Conservative 
  • In areas with higher proportion of white voters, Labour loses 12% of its share of vote among ethnic minorities
  • This only has a marginal benefit for the Conservatives, who receive 23% of ethnic minorities' voters where they represent 30% or more of the electorate, and 24% in areas with a lower proportion of non-white voters 
  • In 2010, the Conservatives received 26% of ethnic minority votes, compared with 41% for Labour 
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Voting Behaviour Theories

The Party Identification Theory 

Emphasis on political socialisation which explained how people learned their politial attitudes and behaviour via the process of growing up, in the settings like their family and schoos. People had a psychological attachment to their parties, a sense of identity often referred to as "partisan alignment" = the way they voted reflected this identification so that voting was a long time manifestation held by beliefs and loyalties

  • Partisan dealignment - much in use now, as of the level of party idenification today being less than in the past.

The Sociological Theory 

Points to th way in which people's social characteristics influenced their participation in politics, in particular social class 

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Voting Behaviour Theories

The Rational Choice Theory 

In the 1980's the emphasis shifted from psychological and sociological approaches and was instead placed on the role of the individual in making a rational judgement and consequently acting in a calculated and deliberate way. The assessment of the parties is based on self-interest - the voter's perception of the likely effect on their life and well being in the present and near future, taking into account the treatment of the economy, education, domestic policies etc.

Dominant Ideology Theory 

Argued by Dunley & Husband in 1995, it states that individual choices are influenced by media misrepresentation. In their view, newspapers and televelsion disorts the process of political communication, helping to determine the agenda for debate and consciously provide a partial coverage of the news. This is important in the age of class dealignment = as in the absence of traditional factors such as class, the voters aer more likely to be swayed by what they hear, see and read. 

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Determinants of Voting Behaviour

Long Term 

  • Party identification and loyalty: identity with a particular party and loyalties are forged - long term (strong) alignment (could be from family influences, which are reinforced by the membership of particular groups and later social groups)
  • Social class: main emphasis in Britain being placed upon the person's membership of and identity with a particular social group (working class/middle class/upper class)
  • Other factors relating to social structure e.g. age, gender, region, religion, occupation etc
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Determinants of Voting Behaviour

Short Term Influences

  • Economy: levels of inflation, unemploymenet and disposable income - most importantly how the electorate view future prospects
  • Personal qualities and appeal of the party leaders: more important todat given the media's information/infatuation with personalities
  • Impact of the mass media: currently play an important party - help determine influence on the electorate and how they vote, helping to determine what the election is about and the issues that are important (in the upcoming 2015 election crucial factors include the economy and our membership to the EU)
  • The style and effectiveness of party campaigning 
  • The events leading up to the election - such as "Bigotgate" in 2010 with Gordon Brown, affecting Labour's performance 
  • Issues and party images: much depends on the ability of the parties to inspire trust in their own policies and their ability to fulfil them and to cast doubt on their opponenets 

Long term influences have become less prominant in British politics with short term influences becoming more significant - parties can no longer count on support they once took for granted 

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Post War Trends

From 1970's and onwards the process of class dealignment was reflected in the reduction in Conservative support from professional classes and a reduction in Labour support from th working class. 

In 1997, Labour increased its support across all social classes and for some years it continued to broaden its appeal in "Middle England" - the political middle ground often seen as the aspirational middle with lower/middle and working classes of England, those who wanted better of themselves and whose views are often equated with the readership of the Daily Mail. 

Features most noted in the post-war years up to the 1970s:

  • Stability of voting pattens as people stayed loyal to the party they had always supported 
  • Elections were determined by a body of floating voters in key marginal constituencies 
  • Domination of the 2 parties - the rise of 3rd parties has made inroads into the share of the vote that the 2 main parties command 
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Newspapers swaying votes in 2010 Election

Vast majority supported Conservatives in 2010 election 

Daily Express - most of the electorate voted for the Conservatives

Daily Mirror - Labour 

Daily Mail - Conservative 

Daily Record (Scottish) - Labour 

Daily Telegraph - Conservative 

Guardian - Labour 

Independent - Liberal Democrat

Sun? - Conservative 

Times? - Conservative 

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Media affecting Voting Behaviour

Reinforcement theory (papers reinforce politics towards us)  vs. Agenda Setting theory (papers have an agenda to sway our vote)

  • Papers such as Telegraph and Guardian have kept the party that they support, unlike the Sun where it switched each election to which party they support. 
  • Marxist model - capital/right-wing press (ownership) they believe the papers are a tool for controlling our opinions on elections, supporting the Agenda Setting theory 
  • Pluralist theory - media biased but across different ideologies - simply reinforces beliefs, supporting the reinforcement theory
  • TV more influential than newspapers - CREST: the influence of the papers has been overstated
  • Mass manipulation model - we can be easily controlled by our opinions, supporting Agenda Setting theory and dominant ideology theory 
  • Politicians reliance on spin - the way they present information towards us. Alistar Campbell/Peter Mandlinson/Rebecca Brookes - they meet with newspaper editors, write speeches. n 1997 £21 million spent on media communication. By improving media coverage, parties can earn more group support, thus refering to the Agenda Setting Theory
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Voting Behaviour in 2010

TV Debates 

  • 2010 first election where the TV debates between the 3 party leaders
  • Debate lost Labour seats (20), with the Conservatives gaining seats
  • Shows rational choice theory and dominant ideology 

Genard Points 

  • Decline in party identification 
  • 2/3rds of the electorate voted for Conservative and Labour 
  • 1/10 voted someone other than the 3 main parties - never seen before
  • Labour's 2nd worst election since 1918 with their worst perfomance in 1983 

Conservative - vote share was modest with the 5th lowest out of 24 elections. Never has a party achieved office with such a low share of votes. 

BNP - relatively successuly in deprived, urban areas. Did well in areas of ubarn industrial settlements with high unemployment. 

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Voting Behaviour in 2010

Said to be no pattern (rational choice) - Scotland swung to Labour, England to the Tories and everywhere the exceptions ruled. 

London was an unexpected source of Tory gloom (anti-Conservative feel) the city that elected Johsnon as mayor proved less enamoured by Cameron 

Much of the rest of the south west voted blue (sociological) and there was evidence of volatality in Redruth which now elected 3 different MPs from 3 parties in 3 elections. 

Not a single seat changed in Scotland - strong evidence of party identification and voter stability 

Britan's first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, in Brighton - rational choice theory seen in the choice for the environment. 

Wales, Scotland and North of England were seen as safe seats - sociological. 

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Voting Behaviour Concepts and Authors

Class dealignment - 1970's when most psephologists recognised dealignment - people not voting for their class party. Middle class voting Labour and working class voting Conservative - class no longer as important 

Class realigment (Ivor Creww) - still voting for class reason: 2010 working class in Barnsley voting for the BNP for several reasons - Labour too middle class? Shows class still important 

Embourgoisement - people actng middle class, as they may not identify themselves as working class

Heath, Jowell and Curtice - class is too complex to analyse - 80% of the population recognise themselves as middle class

Himmelweit, Humphrys and Jaegar - classic exponents of rational model, all voting is a rational act and when we vote we are "shoppers with a shopping list"

V.O. Key - all voting is a retrospective act, looking back at the 4/5 first at the performance of the government of the day. This makes campaign less important, with governments winning elections in economic booms and losing them in economic recess. 

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