The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain: Part A
Part A: Electoral Stability Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970
Part B: Other Social Influences on Voting Behaviour 1945-2017 : Age , Gender, Ethnicity, Region and Religion
[Some of the data in this document refer to voting behaviour in the UK but most of the analysis applies to Great Britain and I have given no consideration to voting behaviour in Northern Ireland]
Document last edited: 23/07/2019
This document has been revised and reorganised in October 2018. Only minor changes have been made to the section on the Party Identification Model and class voting but the statistics in the second part of the document on non-class influences on voting behaviour have been updated to include information on the 2015 and 2017 General Elections and I have repositioned some of the links in an attempt to make the document more user friendly. I hope to post more detailed documents soon on the 2015 and 2017 General Elections but in the meantime students may find the pages of links in this page to these General Elections useful.
Click here for Radio 4 Analysis ; How Voters Decide Parts One and Part Two Feb 20th and 27th 2017 . A must listen!!
Click here for Low Income Voters in UK General Elections 1987-2017. This is a detailed paper with a very useful summary which should be helpful for A Level Government and Politics students. NEW link added July 2019
Click here for a review and here for a succinct summary of The New Politics of Class: the political exclusion of the British working class [Geoffrey Evans and James Tilley 2017] NEW links added July 2019
Document One: The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain
Part A : Electoral Stability , Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970 :
- Learning Objectives/Assignment
- From 1945 to 1970: An Overview
- Political Change in Britain [David Butler and Donald Stokes 1969: Second Edition 1974]: The Party Identification Model
- The Party Identification Model of Voting Behaviour: An Interim Summary
- Deviant Voters
Part B: Other Social Influences on Voting Behaviour from 1945-2017
- Age, Gender, Region , Religion, and Ethnicity
My Voting Behaviour documents have now been restructured, updated and revised. The original version of this document has been divided into two sections with some further revisions in October 2018 and the original document on the 1970s to the 1990s has been divided into two sections and revised quite significantly in an effort to clarify the differences between the various models of voting behaviour developed from the 1970s to the 1990s. The third document describes the General Elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005 and the fourth document describes the 2010 General Election. I have also added two pages of links on the 2015 and 2017 General Elections respectively and most recently a link to a detailed paper entitled Low income voters in UK General Elections 1987-2017. Thus the new structure of voting behaviour documents is as follows:
Document One : The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain
Part A: The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain: Electoral Stability, Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970
Part B: Non-Class Influences on Voting Behaviour 1945-2017
Click here For Voting Behaviour in the UK; Document Two [New Revised Document uploaded in early October 2010]
Part A: Models of Voting Behaviour
Part B: The General Elections of 1992 and 1997
Click here for Voting Behaviour in the UK: Document Three The General Elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005: Some Comparisons. [Comparative information on the 2010 General Election will be added in the near future.]
Click here for The UK General Election of 2010: Document Four
Click here for a link to Professor Vernon Bogdanor's Lecture Series on the General Elections of 1945, 1959, 1974 [Feb], 1979 , 2010 and 2015
Click here for Low Income Voters in UK General Elections 1987-2017. This is a detailed paper with a very useful summary which should be helpful for A Level Government and Politics students. July 2019
The original PowerPoint Presentations will not be altered but I have added a link to an excellent IPSOS MORI Slide Presentation on the 2010 General Election .
Click here for a PowerPoint on Document One
Click here for a PowerPoint on Models of Voting Behaviour
Click here for a PowerPoint on the Social Influences on Voting and Non-Voting
Click here for a PowerPoint on the General Elections of 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005
Click here for the IPSOS MORI Presentation on the 2010 General Election
Document One: Part A : The Analysis of Voting Behaviour in Great Britain: Electoral Stability, Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970
Document One : Learning Objectives/Assignment
1. Why has the period between 1945-1970 in the UK been described as a period of relative electoral stability?
2.Explain the nature of the party identification model of voting behaviour. You should use the following phrases: objective and subjective social class,, partisan self-image or party identification, political issues and party policies, party images, social class differences in political socialisation.
3.How has social class traditionally been measured in studies of voting behaviour?
4.How were the usual relationships between social class and voting behaviour explained in the party identification model?
5.What was deviant voting? How would you explain middle class support for the Labour Party? What early explanations were given for working class support for the Conservative Party?
6 Voting behaviour has traditionally been linked with social class, age, gender, ethnicity, region and religion. What was P.G.J.. Pulzer's view about the relative significance of the above mentioned factors influencing voting behaviour?
7.Briefly explain how any three of these non- class variables affect voting behaviour .
Document One: Part A : Electoral Stability , Party Identification and Social Class 1945-1970
The analysis of voting behaviour is known also as "psephology" deriving from the Greek "psephos" [a pebble] with which the ancient Athenians indicated their voting decisions. Psephologists in the UK distinguish between the period of 1945-1970 which they characterise as the era of electoral stability, two party dominance, party identification and class alignment and the period from 1970 to the present day which is described as the era of declining party identification/partisan dealignment and class dealignment although there are also important arguments as to whether the general elections of 1997 and 2001 ushered in a realignment of UK voting behaviour.
In this document I shall focus especially on the ways in which the party identification model of voting behaviour was used in Butler and Stokes' "Political Change in Britain" [1969: second edition 1974] to explain relationships between social class and voting behaviour between 1945 and 1970.Working class voters and middle class voters were shown to vote mainly for the Labour and Conservative parties respectively although there were also significant percentages of deviant voters who did not vote predictably according to their social class. [ The subsequent processes of partisan dealignment and class dealignment will be considered in Document two ..
In the period 1945-1970 there were also observable correlations between voting behaviour and age, gender, region, religion and ethnicity. I discuss briefly the reasons for these correlations and also reproduce IPSOS MORI data on these correlations for the General Elections Oct 1974-2017in the hope that students will find it useful to have this data "all in one place".
From 1945 to 1970: An Overview
Let us begin with a broad consideration of the period of 1945-1970 which has been described as a period of relative electoral stability dominated by the two major political parties: the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Thus between 1945-1970 the Conservative and Labour Parties regularly gained approximately 90% of the votes cast in general elections which under the conditions of the "first past the post" electoral system translated into approximately 98% of the parliamentary seats while the Ulster Unionist Party [UUP] gained a further 10-12 seats and could be relied upon to regularly support the Conservative Party in parliament. Neither the Liberal Party nor the Nationalist parties offered any real challenge to this 2 Party dominance. Further aspects of electoral stability were that opinion poll fluctuations and by election swings were relatively narrow and surveys indicated that relatively few voters switched their party allegiance between general elections although more switched between voting and non- voting. The relative stability of opinion polls suggested that most voters were influenced far less by short term political issues than by long term social structural factors to be discussed below and variations in general election results could be said to be determined by the relatively small percentages of so-called floating voters who did switch party allegiance between general elections.
Political Change in Britain [David Butler and Donald Stokes 1969: Second Edition 1974]: The Party Identification Model
Psephologists at the time demonstrated that voting behaviour was clearly correlated with a range of social variables including social class, age, gender, region, religion and "race" or ethnicity and that social class was the most significant influence on voting behaviour which enabled P.G.J. Pulzer to write in Political Representation and Election (1967) that "Class is the basis of British party policies: all else is embellishment and detail", a conclusion which was endorsed fully by David Butler and Donald Stokes in their famous study "Political Change in Britain [1969: second edition 1974].
These patterns of voting behaviour and in particular the relationships between social class and voting behaviour were explained in terms of the so-called Party Identification Model of voting behaviour which originated in the electoral research conducted in the 1940s and 1950s at the University of Michigan and was refined further in Butler and Stokes' Political Change in Britain. This is a long detailed and complex study and I can aim here only to outline the core elements of its model of party identification and in particular its analysis of relationships between voting behaviour and social class.
These main elements can be stated as follows.
Approximately 90% of respondents in Butler and Stokes' surveys stated that they did identify with either the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or, to a lesser extent the Liberal Party and the respondents' party identifications usually remained relatively stable over the course of several elections and often throughout voters' lives sometimes hardening with age.
Their party identification was correlated strongly with their actual voting behaviour such that, for example, in the Local Elections of 1963 85% of Conservative identifiers, 95% of Labour identifiers and 88% of Liberal identifiers voted in accordance with their stated party identification.
The vast majority of respondents were also prepared to assign themselves either to the working class or to the middle class or, in a small minority of cases , to the upper class.
The definition and measurement of social class presents enormous problems but in early studies of voting behaviour social class is usually measured by occupation as in the schema developed by the Institute of Marketing in which individuals are assigned to "social classes" A, B, Cl, C2, D and E defined as follows: A=Higher professional, managerial and administrative; B =Intermediate professional, managerial and administrative; C1 =Supervisory, clerical and other non-manual; C"=Skilled manual; D=Semi-skilled and unskilled manual; E= Residual including casual workers and people dependent wholly on state benefits .
It can be seen clearly in the following table there was a strong correlation between voters' objective social class position and their actual voting behaviour from 1945 to 1970 as is indicated in the following data from selected general elections. Assuming for simplicity that we can measure social class by occupation and that the division between manual and non-manual workers corresponds to the division between the working class and the middle class, the link between voting behaviour and social class was at its strongest in the General Elections of 1950 and 1951 when approx. 2/3 of working class voters voted Labour and 1/3 Tory, while approx 3/4 of the middle class voted Tory and 1/5 Labour. Class voting remained fairly high throughout the 1960s while support for the Liberals was very low and fairly evenly distributed across the social classes, although with a slight middle class bias.
[However as the data for the 1983 General Election show, the link between social class and voting behaviour had weakened by 1983, especially because working class support for the Labour Party had declined significantly but also because middle class voters had to some extent deserted the Conservative party for the Liberal-SDP Alliance. We shall consider the changing relationships between social class and voting behaviour from the 1970s to 2017 in later documents]
Voting Behaviour and Social Class in Selected General Elections [Great Britain]
But why did so many voters vote in accordance with their social class position between 1945-1970?
Butler and Stokes argued that most voters had only limited knowledge and understanding of key political issues of the early 1960s such as the state of the UK economy or the desirability of otherwise of UK entry into the EEC [as it then was; they could only rarely describe in any detail the policy differences between the political parties; and their political opinions were often ideologically inconsistent in the sense that they could only rarely be combined into composite ideological positions which were recognisably "left wing" or "right wing" or "centrist." Therefore for most but not all voters the voting decision could not be explained as an individual response to perceived differences in party policies. Instead voting decisions could be better explained via the influences of long term social structural factors: it is in this sense that the Party Identification model came to be described as a sociological model of voting behaviour [as distinct from the more individualistic models of voting behaviour which were developed from the 1970s onwards. However Butler and Stokes did not deny totally the influences on voting behaviour of short term and medium issues, policies and events but these were considered to be much less influential than long term social structural factors.
Butler and Stokes argued that voters were heavily influenced by long term processes of political socialisation operative especially in the family but also in the work place and the wider community which presented them with generalised broad images of the political parties. Thus Labour might be presented as the party of the disadvantaged, of the trade unions, of the working class of nationalisation or of the welfare state while the Conservative Party might be presented as the party of private enterprise, of private property and the nation as a whole.
There were also, obviously important social class differences in these processes of political socialisation n which working class people and middle class people to identify especially with the Labour Party and the Conservative Party respectively and to vote accordingly. [ Within these class differentiated socialisation processes members of each social class would be provided both with positive images of "their party" and negative images of opposing parties].
The Party Identification Model of Voting Behaviour: An Interim Summary
The Party identification suggests that voters decisions are influenced much more by social structural variables [and especially by their social class position] than by short term issues, policies and events .
Differing social class positions result in class differences in political socialisation processes operating in the family , the work place and the wider community.
Class differences in political socialisaton processes result in the transmission of differing broad party images which encourage working class and middle class people to identify mainly with the Labour Party or the Conservative Party respectively.
Most voters vote in accordance with their party identification.
That is: for most voters social class differences result in social class differences in social class differences in political socialisation, social class differences in party images, social class differences in party identification and social class differences in voting behaviour. And there you have it!
Given their relatively large numbers if all working class voters had voted Labour between 1945 and 1970 Labour would have won every single general election. However a substantial minority of working class voters voted Tory, and also a smaller, but still substantial minority of middle class voters voted Labour, even at the high point of class voting in the General Elections of 1950 and 1951. These cross-class voters, given their relatively small numbers, were described as "deviant" voters. Why did they vote "deviantly"?
Working Class Conservative Voters : Early Explanations
Early explanations (for example that of Bagehot) of working class Conservatism had stressed the importance of deference, and in their study "Angels in Marble", Mackenzie and Silver claimed that in the early60's approximately 50% of working class support for the Conservative Party could indeed explained in terms of deference, with such voters to be found mainly in agricultural areas and small towns, working in small scale industries with relatively close paternalistic relationships with their employers, having limited opportunities for the development of working class consciousness, and perceiving the inequalities of the social order as essentially just and meritocratic. Another grouping of secular working class Conservatives was also noted; these voters were mainly young, male, relatively well-paid, voiced limited support for the Trade Union movement, the Welfare State and nationalisation and essentially supported the principles of private enterprise. They were more pragmatic in their voting behaviour than the deferentials and more likely than the deferentials to switch their support away from the Tories.
As a response to Labour's three successive defeats in the General Elections of 1951, 1955, and 1959 it was widely argued that this may have been due to changes in the nature of the working class with rising working class affluence leading to an increased likelihood of secular working class Conservative voting. However this line of argument was undermined by the Goldthorpe-Lockwood critique of the Embourgeoisement theory (The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure.1969) which found affluent manual workers had been more likely than the working class as a whole to support Labour in the General election of 1959 .Nevertheless the support of these affluent workers for the Labour Party was shown to be very fickle, and potentially volatile suggesting that more and more working class voters might desert the Labour Party in the future.
The analysis of working class conservatism can be extended in the following document when we consider the more recent trends in voting behaviour and the new theories of voting behaviour which were developed in response to these trends.
Middle Class Labour voters: An Introduction
Possible factors encouraging middle class voters to vote Labour include the following:
Many current members of the middle class may have grown up in the working class The Goldthorpe Social Mobility study entitled Social Mobility and Class Structure [1987 ]t demonstrated that rates of absolute upward social mobility were considerable such that many current members of the middle class come from a working class background where the powerful process of political socialisation may cause them to continue to identify with and to vote for the Labour Party.
They may have been radicalised via academic study and/or by their work in the institutions of the welfare state, seeing the effects of social inequality at first hand, and believing the Labour party are most likely to defend the welfare state as suggested for example by Frank Parkin in his study of middleclass radicalism  Notice that this suggests that middle class voters working in state institutions are more likely than middle class voters working in private enterprise, to vote Labour and as we shall see, in the following document this is indeed the case to some extent.
Later models of voting behaviour give more emphasis to the effects of political issues and party policies on voting behaviour. Some middle class voters in the 1960s may have supported strongly Labour's liberal social reforms in areas such as divorce, abortion and gay rights or in some cases Labour's unilateralist nuclear disarmament policies proposed in the General Elections of 1983 and1987.
Again the analysis of middle class support for the Labour Party is extended in subsequent documents when we consider the more recent trends in voting behaviour and the new theories/models of voting behaviour which were developed in response to these trends. Click here for Document Two which contains information on more recent theories/models and trends in voting behaviour and click here for a PowerPoint on Models .of Voting Behaviour.
Meanwhile in Part B of this document let us turn to the effects of Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Region and Religion on voting behaviour.
For Part B - Click Here