There has been a significant decline since the post war consensus in the influence of social factors such as class and partisanship on voting behaviour. Class lines have become blurred from increased affluence, improved education and changes in the Labour market such as the formation of a ‘new working class’; resulting in the centralisation of the main political parties to become ‘catch-all’ parties, adapting their policies for short-term gain and effectively putting an end to the relevance of party ideology. This has led many people to the conclusion that short-term rational choice factors such as the state of the economy, qualities of the party leader and government competence are now far more important in shaping voting behaviour than long-term social factors such as class, ethnicity, age and gender.
The effects of partisan and class dealignment cannot be denied; in 1964, 43% of voters were ‘very strong’ in their support of their party, however by 2005 it had fallen to just 13%. As a result there is now an increased number of ‘floating voters’ who often have little knowledge of the actual ideologies or policies of the parties but instead make their decisions based on short-term factors such as how the party leaders perform in the TV debates. In the 2010 TV debates, 1 in 4 voters were said to have changed their minds after the first debate alone, supporting the idea that short-term factors are more important as this displays the significant influence of party leaders and the media on voting behaviour.
One of the most influential short-term factors of voting behaviour is the qualities of the party leader; however this is not always positive. For example, Tony Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war lost the Labour party a great deal of support; as is stated in the extract, ‘public dissatisfaction with Tony Blair could have cost the party up to 12 percentage points in the 2005 general election’. Other examples include the MP’s expenses scandal and Nick...
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