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Deciding Which Party to Vote for Is Now a Rational Exercise

In: Social Issues

Submitted By johnsmith33
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Many political scientists- such as Crewe and Franklin- have argued that since the 1970s there has been a decline in loyalty to political parties, especially the two main parties, meaning party dealignment is taking place.
Party dealignment is a decline in loyalty towards a political party, which is more evident in the Labour party and the Conservative party. We can see that support for the two main parties never fell below 87.5% between 1950 and 1970, which shows party alignment. However there has been a decline is support for the two main parties, shown in that the support for both parties combined hasn’t been higher than 74% since 1974. This could be because a lot of voters left the two main parties when parties such as the Liberal Democrats or Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties emerged. Voters are also no longer loyal to a single party and so we’ve seen an increase in the ‘floating vote’ as, according to Bruter, many voters decide who they’re voting for shortly before election day.
There are various reasons for the decline in class loyalty, but it can be argued that the main one is a decline in class loyalty- class dealignment. Prior to the 1970’s voters stayed loyal to the Labour party or the Conservative party, as they were mostly class based. In the 1960’s Pulzer wrote that ‘class is the basis of British party politics’ meaning that class was the main factor for political views. It is true that most people voted according to their social class for example between the 1940s and 1960s Labour would often get around two thirds of the C2 (skilled manual labour workers) and DE (semi and unskilled workers) working class vote. Around four fifths of the AB (professional/managerial workers) and C1 (other white collar workers) middle class voters would vote for the Conservative party. However, along with party loyalty, class loyalty and alignment has also been declining since the 70s. Since this time political scientists, such as Crewe, have been arguing that the growth of ‘floating voters’ is due to class dealignment, which is a decline in class based voting. It can be argued that this decline is due to the embourgeoisement of the working class. This is where the working class are becoming wealthier and the class lines are blurring. These blurred lines lead to the working class taking on more middle class beliefs and values. Ivor Crew argued that there is an ‘old’ working class and a ‘new’ working class. The new working class were more likely to vote Conservative as their policies benefited them more, such as the right to buy council houses. In 1983 the Labour party presented a very left wing manifesto, more suited to the old working class and were defeated by the Conservative’s right wing policies. Class dealignment can also be seen in the 2010 election, as the Conservative party got 39% of the C2 vote, meaning around 4/10 of skilled manual workers voted Conservative, whereas only 2/10 voted for Labour.
As there is both class and party dealignment, there had been an increase in the floating vote. Floating voters have no loyalty to a particular party and will sway between parties between elections. As class isn’t behind the choice they make they will be influenced by other factors such as individual policies that are important to them. In the 80’s Himmelweit wrote that voters now act as political consumers, meaning they ‘shop around’ the different parties, deciding which party to vote for based on various issues, and then making a rational vote. This is known as consumer voting behaviour.
There are also other factors, known as primacy factors. This includes image of the party leader, which is known as Valance Theory and was put forward by David Denver. Other factors include the way the party is shown in the media, as the ‘Hypodermic Needle Theory’ suggests that the media ‘injects’ us with our political knowledge and as it will often be biased it will lead people to decide which party they vote for. Dr Green, wrote that sometimes issue based voting is more prevalent in some elections for example the Iraq war in 2005 and the economy in 2010. As there are a lot of factors, voters are able to make a more rational choice.
However, there are also primacy factors to take into account. This includes class, geography, age, gender and ethnicity.
Studies done by Heath, Jowell and Curtice challenge the theories of class dealignment. They argue that a ‘new’ working class developed in the 1980s, which accounts for a small part of Labour’s loss of working class support. The new working class had a lessened sense of class identity. They argue that the party was poorly represented and that the divisions in the party and leadership issues that led to the decline of the Labour vote. Although they argue that class isn’t as big a factor as other political scientists, such as Crewe, claim it is, no political scientist will say that class is no longer important. Class dealignment is still a big factor in voting behaviour, but class still affects voting behaviour. For example a lot of working class voters still exclusively vote Labour, for example in 2010 Labour won 48% of the DE vote, while Conservatives only picked up 28% of the vote.
Another factor that affects voting is the different regions people live in, also known as the north/south voting divide. The Conservatives are traditionally stronger in the south of England, including the midlands, whereas Labour is stronger in the north, including Scotland and Wales. For example in 2005, the Conservatives only gained three seats in Wales and one in Scotland. Even in 2010 when Labour lost a lot of their seats they still managed to get all of the seats in Durham, Tyne and Wear, and most of the seats in Manchester and Liverpool, so clearly region is an important primacy factor. There’s also an urban/rural divide as rural areas are more likely to vote Conservative.
The two main parties also appeal to different age groups. Younger people are often more radical, and more idealistic. They are also more likely to vote Labour, for example in 2010 the 18-24 age group was the only age group Labour was ahead on. On the other hand, older voters are more likely to vote Conservatives, which could be because they have acquired more wealth. In 2005 Labour won every age category except the over 65s, which the Conservatives were ahead on.
To conclude, primacy factors can still affect a person’s voting behaviour, but recently it can be argued that voting is now a rational exercise, as the floating vote is increasing and they often treat voting as a rational exercise. However it can be said that the choice is made on a narrow basis as there is often one main issue, for example in 2005 it was the Iraq war. It is also possible that people are making a rational choice to not vote, as the main parties all have fairly similar. This is backed up by the fact that turn out is dropping for example it was only 65% in 2010 compared to around 80% in the 1950s.…...

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