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The Changing Basis of Party Competition: Education, Authoritarian–Libertarian Values and Voting

  • Rune Stubager

The role of social structure as a determinant of electoral behaviour has been debated across Western countries, with one side in the debate arguing that the rise of the electoral conflict between authoritarian–libertarian values reflects the diminishing importance of socio-structural factors. In contrast, this article shows, using a unique representative sample from Denmark, how this conflict has its roots in an opposition between high- and low-education groups that divide over authoritarian–libertarian values, have developed education-based identities and group consciousness, and are influenced by these factors to vote for parties, each mobilizing their side in the conflict – that is, that the authoritarian–libertarian conflict is based on an education cleavage. Documenting for the first time the influence of education-based identity and group consciousness on voting, these findings demonstrate that socio-structural factors – partly through the voters’ social identities and consciousness – continue to play an important role for electoral behaviour in Western countries. Likewise, the findings suggest that the conflict over authoritarian–libertarian values will have lasting importance for politics in these countries. The logical next step, therefore, will be to extend the analyses to the comparative level.

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Rune Stubager is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University. Contact email:

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