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Is social class the most important factor that determines voting behaviour in Britain?

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Introduction

Is social class the most important factor that determines voting behaviour in Britain? Social class is one of the factors that affect the political culture of a country. This is the opinions, attitudes and beliefs, which shape political behaviour. A country's political culture consists of the whole citizenry's collective attitudes to the political system and their role in it. Both the country's political culture and social class values are changing. These are influencing the change in voting behaviour experienced in the past few years. In the Oxford English Dictionary, class is defined as "a division or order of society according to status; a rank or grade of society", but this is not what Marx meant by class and Weber specifically distinguished class from status. Despite this, it is the everyday meaning of class and this therefore causes confusion as the many different interpretations are mixed up and combined. In reality, discussions about class and politics are really about status and politics due to the blurred definitions. This problem is heightened because of the classification scheme used to divide up the electorate. ...read more.

Middle

Since the war, Britain has undergone a period of Embourgeoisement. Rising pay levels and living standards have caused the attitudes of the better-off manual workers to become more like those of the middle class. They are therefore more likely to vote conservative. This is one way of accounting for the flaws with the traditional class system. Research conducted in the 1950's and 60's in both Britain and the USA, suggests that out of all the factors that might determine a person's voting behaviour, social class was the by far the most accurate predictor. This became known as the Class alignment theory. This was all very well for the period of 1945 to 1970, but since 1970, there has been increasing evidence of the opposite trend occurring. Many political scientists began to claim that we were in a time of class dealignment. It was also proposed that labour's share of the vote has been shrinking because the working class has been shrinking. It is probable that that former statement made the reduction of labour's popularity due to the latter statement, more noticeable than it would have otherwise have been. ...read more.

Conclusion

It appears that many voters have altered their voting behaviour, not because class matters less but rather because the choices on offer from the parties have changed. The relationship between class and vote was at an all time low in 1997 and declined further in 2001. A debate has arisen about whether this is a long-term decline, but the support of the 2001 election results suggests that it might be. It is evident that the relationship between class and voting patterns has altered greatly since the Second World War, but the class system itself has undergone substantial changes so it is not, perhaps surprising. In the past few years, the primary approach to voting has declined and more people are relying on the recency approach to determine whom they vote for. This leads to much more fickle voting as it relies on the personality of the leader, the image of the party and issue preference. It places less stress on the long-term factors such as class and age. I think that of these long-term factors, class remains the most important and influential, but overall, the long-term factors are becoming less important and therefore class is not the single most important factor affecting voting behaviour in Britain. Laura-Mary Evans. 12SK ...read more.

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