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November 1, 2008 / C H Thompson

Social influences on voting

by Sam Cook a former student

There is a raft of factors which influences the way people vote from social class to gender, ethnicity, age and regions. The influences of gender, ethnicity, age and region are explained in more detail here , while social-class is explored below.

There has been a change in voting patterns over time such as these. However there remains one fundamental factor which has a very significant factor for sociologist and that is social-class.

Social-class – from 1945 to the mid 1970s most of the electorate saw themselves as either Labour or Conservative voters and sociologists call this partisan alignment. There is a lot of evidence which indicates that social-class is the main engine in the creation of partisan alignment. This is because the working-class voted for Labour because they saw this political party as looking after their interests. In contrast the Conservative party was the party of the middle and upper-classes.

This relationship between social-class  party identification and voting behaviour is known as class alignment. Butler and Stokes argued that class alignment in voting behaviour is due to political socialisation. This is where parents bring their children up to identify and become loyal to a particular political party. This is explained in more depth here.

In contrast partisan dealignment is where there is weakening between the electorate and their loyalty to a particular political party. Ivor Crewe and Bo Sarlvick  (1983) research discovered there is a decline in loyalty to a particular party and this is known as partisan dealignment where the electorate feel no obligation to vote a particular way.

Crewe and Sarlvick’s argued that the reason for partisan dealignment is because there’s been a decline in class-based voting. For example a working-class person might vote Conservative (think Thatcher and council house sell-off).

Crewe and Sarlvick say the reasons for this change are as follows:

  1. A decline in manufacturing industries and other heavy industries like coal, steel and shipbuilding mean their are very few men employed in these traditionally working-class occupations. The decline in these industries also precipitated a decline in trade union membership, and so a declining working-class electoral base
  2. They found that the electorate was consistently voting by party policy and not party loyalty. This could be attributed to the decline of political socialisation within the home, as parents themselves shifted allegiance and so were less partisan in their way of voting.

Partisan and class dealignment is explained in more depth here.

  • (Remember all the above two areas identified by Crewe and Sarlvick fit neatly into Thatcher’s idea selling off of council houses, so working-class people could become home owners and were more likely to vote Conservative)
  • (Remember Billy Elliot! Think about whether his family remained loyal and partisan to Labout values. Do you think Billy’s brother and father dealigned themselves from Labour ideologies and insteaded adopted what Sarlvick and Crewe called the policy perference model ?) If you’re uncertain remind youself with the clip below..



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