by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Twelve: Voters

Chapter Notes

  • Party identification as a standing decision to vote for a given party. Its role in helping voters to interpret the political world. Its American roots and more limited applicability in West Europe, where class, religious and left-right orientations served similar functions.
  • Partisan dealignment as the weakening of party identification. The collapse of strong identities, in particular. Causes include disillusionment with parties, convergence of party policies, decay of social divisions, rising education and the dominance of television. But in the USA dealignment was focused on the period 1964-76, with some strengthening recently.
  • The consequences (or dimensions?) of dealignment: the strengthening of new parties, a fall in turnout, and an increase in electoral volatility, split-ticket voting and issue voting.
  • The declining social base. The fall in class voting, whether measured by the Alford Index or the Goldthorpe scheme. Causes partly political, especially the collapse of socialism and class rhetoric, but also sociological, including the decay of manufacturing, large workplaces and trade union membership. But public sector employment provides an alternative if smaller base for left parties.
  • By contrast, religious voting (whether measured by belief in God, religiosity or denomination) has remained relatively firm, at least beyond Northern Europe.
  • The rational voter model. The median voter theorem as a guide to party behaviour. But the difficulty the rational model faces in getting electors to the polls, in motivating them to acquire political information and in incorporating valence (performance) issues.
  • The high hurdle of issue voting: voters must be aware of the issue, have an opinion on it, believe the parties differ towards it and vote accordingly. Issue voting has increased with dealignment but remains only a partial explanation of electoral choice.
  • The economy is a consistent influence on voting behaviour. Personal income, unemployment and inflation are particularly important. How voters perceive economic performance is an intervening factor. Voters look forward (prospective voting) as well as backwards (retrospective voting). The national economy is more important than the individual’s own economic condition. Economic voting is greater when accountability is clearest, as with single-party majority governments.
  • Leaders’ personalities as such do not appear to be a major influence on how people vote. But perceptions of a leader’s competence and integrity are significant. And leaders can of course espouse policies that move their party in a particular direction. Still, the common assumption that ‘it’s all image and personality’ appears wide of the mark.
  • Turnout and its decline, despite no fall in political interest. Possible explanations: declining importance of elections and diminished satisfaction with politicians. Cross-national variations in turnout. For and against compulsory voting. Other factors encouraging turnout, including PR, automatic registration and advance voting. Turnout greatest among middle-aged, well-educated home-owners with a strong party allegiance and a stable address. Recent turnout uptick in, e.g., USA and UK suggests that the fall may be over.

Figures and tables

Multiple choice questions

Essays and term papers

  1. Assess the causes and consequences of partisan dealignment.
  2. What solutions can comparative analysis offer to the issue of declining electoral turnout?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch. 12.

R. Dalton, Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies
C. van der Eijk and M. Franklin, Elections and Voters
M. Franklin, T. Mackie and H. Valen, Electoral Change: Responses to Evolving Social and Attitudinal Structures in Western Countries
M. Franklin, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945
L. LeDuc, R. Niemi and P. Norris, Comparing Democracies 3: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting

  • Comparative Study of Election Systems - a collaborative program of survey research among election study teams from around the world
  • American National Election Studies - data on voting, public opinion and political participation to serve research needs
  • Australian Election Study – extensive data on political behavior in Australia
  • British Election Studies Information Site – British elections: surveys and election results
  • Centre for Comparative European Survey Data - support for academics working with European survey data

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