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June 3, 2013 / C H Thompson

Patterns of voting – an overview

by Sam Cook a former student

In the early 1970s there were established and predictable patterns of voting as there was a clear ideological divide between the two enPartiesTimemain parties Conservatives (Tories) and Labour. But you’re thinking 1970s, what was all that about? Well take a look here.

  • Labour was seen as left-wing with collectivist ideology (ideas) – supporting nationalisation of UK industries; redistribution of income via higher taxation; strong state welfare spending; support for trade unionism
  • The Conservative’s were seen as right-wing with anti-collectivist ideology (ideas) – supporting lower taxation; lower state spending on welfare and clear opposition to nationalised industries.
  • (learn more about nationalisation and get a flavour of the 1970s and its influence on the way people voted)

Butler and Stokes (1974) perspective on voting, saw:

  • Class (occupation) had a significant influence on voting – this is more evident when you examine the nationalisation page
  • The majority of the electorate had a strong partisan alignment towards either Tory or Labour Party
  • There were few floating voters
  • The two-party system meant the electorate either voted Tory (if you were middle-class) or Labour (if you were working-class). Alternative parties never attracted a significant enough share of the vote)
  • People were politically socialised by their parents

By the end of 1970s many of the above influences of voting habits were changing:

  • The influence of class voting started to decline as a result of changing employment patterns particularly the decline in working-class manual jobs (Thatcher’s rise to power in 1979 saw her reduce the number of traditional jobs sustained by nationalisation)
  • There was increasing evidence the electorate was switching their allegiances more often (evidence comes from the relatively high number of elections during 1970s)
  • The Liberal Party was attracting more votes
  • Electoral volatility was increasing. This was due to ‘winter of discontent’; unemployment remained high at 1.5m;  Callaghan’s 5% wage restraint and finally Margret Thatcher changed her personal image as well as hiring Saatchi advertising agency who came up with famous ‘Labour isn’t Working’

Sarlvik and Crewe (1983) explained how the above factors were having a dramatic effect on voting patterns.


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