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How Parties Shape Class Politics: Explaining the Decline of the Class Basis of Party Support


Why has the association between class and party declined over time? Contrary to conventional wisdom that emphasizes the fracturing of social structures and blurring of class boundaries in post-industrial society, it is argued here that class divisions in party preferences are conditioned by the changing shape of the class structure and the effect of parties’ strategic ideological responses to this transformation on the choices facing voters. This thesis is tested using British survey data from 1959 to 2006. We demonstrate that increasing class heterogeneity does not account for the decline of the class–party association, which occurs primarily as a result of ideological convergence between the main parties resulting from New Labour's shift to the centre.

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David Butler and Stokes Donald , Political Change in Britain: The Evolution of Electoral Choice (London: Macmillan, 1974)

John H. Goldthorpe , ‘Modelling the Pattern of Class Voting in British Elections, 1964–92’, in Geoffrey Evans, ed., The End of Class Politics? Class Voting in Comparative Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 5983

Herbert Kitschelt , The Transformation of European Social Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Harold Clarke , David Sanders , Marianne Stewart and Paul Whiteley , Political Choice in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 2

Adam Przeworski , Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 100101

Gosta Esping-Andersen , Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Maria Oskarsson , ‘Social Structure and Party Choice’, in Jacques Thomassen, ed., The European Voter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 84105

James Adams , Samuel Merrill and Bernard Grofman , A Unified Theory of Party Competition: A Cross-National Analysis Integrating Spatial and Behavioral Factors (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Geoffrey Evans , ed., The End of Class Politics? Class Voting in Comparative Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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