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AS Government & Politics - Voting Behaviour

Updated on April 30, 2013

Social Hierarchy

Class alignment is based on a social hierarchy with different classes favouring different policies.
Class alignment is based on a social hierarchy with different classes favouring different policies. | Source

Does Your Class Really Matter?

One of the factors that affect voting is the socio-economic class group that you and your family fall in to. These groups represent different kinds of jobs and lifestyles that commonly come hand in hand.

In the past, class voting seems to have been a lot more prevalent (common), but now it seems that this trend is changing. The term for the phenomenon where classes vote for parties that represent their class and its needs is called 'class alignment' (where the classes and political parties 'align' with each other).

Traditionally, the following views held true (or at least most people thought they were true):

  • If you're a manual worker, then you are in the working class and are going to vote for the Labour Party.
  • But if you are not a manual worker, then you are in the middle class and will vote for the Conservative Party.

Key Term: natural class party - the party that will best look after your socioeconomic class.

The Importance of Partisanship

Like many things, the political party we vote for often happens to be the party that our parents or guardian figures voted for. Exactly what the Social Learning Theory of psychology suggests, people will take on the opinions (including their opinions of political parties and politics in general) of their friends, family and anyone else they might be in close proximities with.

Due to partisanship, both the Labour and Conservatives have always had and will most likely continue to have a large core vote of people who will always vote for them.

A Historical Example
During the years 1945-1970 it was said that partisan alignment was very strong and as such this period of time is used as an example of how important partisanship can be in politics.

Even during this period of time though, there were stark exceptions to partisanship: the middle class socialists were middle class voters who voted for the Labour party whilst the working-class Conservatives would vote for the Conservatives instead of Labour.

The latter group comprised a whole 30% of the working class and it is said that it was only because of them that the Conservative party was able to win the three general elections it did win in the 1950's.

A Traditional Bourgeois Man

Embourgeoisement comes from the french (and now English) word 'bourgeois' - a name given to rich people of the middle class.
Embourgeoisement comes from the french (and now English) word 'bourgeois' - a name given to rich people of the middle class. | Source

Why Were There Exceptions?

Embourgeoisement is the name given to the process by which the working-class become more like the middle class in terms of financial stability and lifestyle. This is brought about by an increase in worker rights and pay and it is said that in the 1950's many people who we would now consider to be working class incorrectly considered themselves to be middle class. In a way, then, this large exception to partisanshipe is still nevertheless a form of misguided partisanship.

It was also said that there was deference because working class members felt they could rely on the Conservative Party's leaders more than they could with the Labour Party.

Gender and Voting

Gender has been shown to also be a strong influencing factor when someone goes to vote:

  • After WW2, women were far more likely to vote for the Conservatives than men.
  • This continued up until the 1990's when they started seeing the Labour Party as more female friendly.
  • Since around 1997, women have been far more likely to vote for the Labour Party, suggesting that they see the Labour Party as having the most fair policies (one of their core beliefs to be equality in every respect).

The Youthful Tides of Change

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Young people took to the streets of London on 15 February 2003 to protest against the Labour-lead Iraq War.
Young people took to the streets of London on 15 February 2003 to protest against the Labour-lead Iraq War.
Young people took to the streets of London on 15 February 2003 to protest against the Labour-lead Iraq War. | Source

Age and Voting

Quite interestingly, 42% of voters are above the age of 55, but are only 35% of the electorate. This is because this age group is far more likely to vote than younger ages.

Because of this, most parties aim to try and tend to this age group but it has been the Conservative Party that has received most success. The Labour Party on the other hand has historically been far more favourable with the younger age groups and saw more voters under the age of 35 in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 election.

It is important to consider the idea that when changes happen in politics, it's usually because there has been a change in the younger age groups - when young women became more likely to work (instead of staying at home), they started voting for the Labour Party and as such Labour started winning elections. When Labour enforced tuition fee rises and waged the unpopular-with-youth Iraq War, the Conservative Party started gaining support again.

Ethnicity and Voting

Around 8% of the UK population falls under an ethnic minority group and historically around 80% of those who did vote voted for Labour. This is presumably because as afore mentioned, Labour prides itself on focussing on equality for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.

In 2005 however, due to the Iraq War (the source of many of Labour's problems) the muslim population of the UK redirected their votes elsewhere, in a bid to show the Labour party that they UK should not have invaded the Middle East (for what came to be no WMDs at all).

Some facts you should consider:

  • Asians are more likely to vote for the Conservative Party than African-Caribbeans
  • But both Asians and African-Caribbeans are more likely to vote for the Labour party nonetheless
  • Although certain ethnic minorities may tend to vote for a particular party, it is more likely that they are voting because of class alignment than any race-specific policies that they see in the parties

Speaking of Voting...

What do you think is the most influential factor in relation to people's voting decisions

See results

Regional Voting

in the 1980's, something known as the 'north-south divide' developed in the UK - the wealthier South of England supported the Conservatives, whilst the more worker-filled North supported the Labour Party.

In 1997 the Labour Party managed to break through to London and the South East of England, taking around 15% of the vote in these areas from the Conservatives.

In 2001 the Labour Party lost votes in all major regions of the UK but maintained its place in both the North and South.

In 2005 Labour once again lost votes in every region of the UK but held onto its Northern stronghold.

Key Fact: although the Conservatives had more votes in England than the Labour Party in 2005, they still had 91 seats less! This is an example of how the constituencies favour the Labour Party in winning general elections.

Why Does Voting Differ Amongst Regions?

  • Distribution of classes
  • Local events (news stories, scandals, failures) and local leaders (highly charismatic, convincing etc.)
  • Tactical voting - voting for a party that you don't support in order to help it win against a party that you really dislike (commonly a Labour supporter voting for a Lib Dem if he has more of a chance of beating the Conservative candidate than the Labour candidate does).

Rational Choice Theories

Ration choice theories of voting are alternative theories to that of partisanship and states that people will make their own reasoned and thought-out decisions about the merits and problems of each party, and then choose which one they think is best.

This is in contrast to partisanship which is founded on the idea that people are almost 'stuck in their ways' and are willing to overlook incompetences of the party they are loyal to because that is the party that they have always and will always vote for.

Before continuing onto the next section, please answer the following question:

Do you think the issue voting model is valid or invalid as a way of explaining voting behaviour?

See results

The Issue Voting Model

This is the idea that people will choose a political party if they have come to decide that it has the best policies on the important issues they take interest in. So, even if you have voted for the Conservative Party five times in a row, if the Liberal Democrats come up with a better policy on a key issue, you may well decide to vote for the Lib Dems next time instead.

Problems with the Issue Voting Model

In reality, it seems that people of Britain are simply neither politically active nor informed enough to base their decisions on issues. More importantly, even if they agree with the policies of another party, they are still most likely going to vote for the party that they (or their parents) have always voted for.

  • In 1987 and 1992, most voters were found to like Labour's policies on unemployment, education and health (the main issues at the time).
  • Despite this fact, the Conservatives still won both of those general elections.

Key Facts

  • In all three of the elections that Tony Blair won (1997, 2001 & 2005) he scored higher approval ratings amongst the public.
  • Although Blair lost a lot of his popularity with unpopular decisions (tuition fees, Iraq War), he was still considered to be a more competent prime minister than Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy in 2005.

Tony Blair was very popular with the public when he first started out.
Tony Blair was very popular with the public when he first started out. | Source

The Party Leader Model

The great importance and power of the Prime Minister suggests that when voting for a candidate of such a key role, much thought and decision making must take place. Even if you disagreed with the Conservatives' policies, would you rather vote for the Conservative Party knowing that it will provide a much better Prime Minister than the Labour Party?

The party leader model suggests that you will, and although accepting that it may not be the deciding factor, claims that it does have an influence on the electorate.

In the 1992 election between John Major and Neil Kinnock the public had a slight preference for John Major - this may have been what turned tide of the election and gave the Conservatives their victory.

Governing Competence Model

This suggests that the electorate will be heavily influenced by how well the party performs.

If a party achieved what is said it would achieve, its members didn't split on every issue and was honest and clear with the public, then it would be voted for again and again until it could not meet the desired characteristics of the public - even if the party does not have the ideal views in the eyes of the electorate.

Critics have said that this is in fact a negative aspect of UK politics, because it means that people are willing to put up with bad policy in order to see competence instead of giving other parties a chance to prove themselves. The concern for the public is of course that other party's have not had the experience in government to be able to control its members, not become corrupt and not go back on its own policies. This gives rise to the 'two party system' we have in the UK, with only Labour or Conservatives being in power in the recent years (save for the 2010 coalition).

In 1997 the public were frustrated and disappointed with the Conservative party (particularly their efforts to improve the economy) and so the Labour Party was voted in.

In the next two elections, although it lost popularity, Labour was still considered to be more competent than the Conservatives, with the electorate remembering the last time the Conservatives were in power and fearing that a similar situation would arise again. This explains why the Conservatives could not regain strength in 2001 or 2005.

As simple as that.
As simple as that. | Source

The Economic Model

Almost as a side-branch of the governing competence model, the economic model states that people will vote for the party that they think will make them richest. This model was able to predict the 1992 election results accurately and explains a lot of the statistics gathered in politics.

In the 1992 election, the Conservatives were the most convincing party when it came to stating that they were the best choice for economic prosperity.

In 1997, when the Conservatives were crushed by Labour, the public's consensus was that the Conservative party did not help the economy (although statistics suggest otherwise) and associated it with tax rises and joblessness. Thus, Labour was voted in and with its low tax rates and low inflation, it gained great public popularity.

Acronym to Remember The Voting Models

PIGE (pronounce Piggy!)

  • Party leadership
  • Issue voting
  • Governing competence
  • Economic voting

Vote Again!

Which Rational Choice Theory do you think is most convincing?

See results


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