How Relevant Nowadays Is the Lipset- Rokkan Analysis of the Relationship Between Social Cleavage and Party Support?

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How relevant nowadays is the Lipset- Rokkan analysis of the relationship between social cleavage and Party support?

In this essay I will first outline the analysis, by S.M. Lipset and S. Rokkan, of the relationship between social cleavage and party support (to be found in "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments" by Lipset and Rokkan, The Free Press, New York, 1967, pages 1-164.). I will lay out the arguments in favour of the analysis, and I will provide examples that lend weight to it. I will also outline some of the principal objections to this theory and will create from them an argument against the Lipset - Rokkan model.

Party support, according to Lipset and Rokkan, originates from fundamental divisions in the opinions of citizens. This split, they argue, will be identifiable in a number of ways. The first of these will be a 'social division'. This occurs, according to the Lipset and Rokkan theory, when a group of people appear different to one another in terms of their position in society; be it their religious views, their financial status, their race or their profession. The last of these ties in with another cleavage: that of class. (See Gallagher, Laver, Mair, "Representative Government in Modern Europe, 2nd edition." McGraw Hill, London 1995; p210 'the meaning of cleavage').

To take the British example of social division, it can be seen in the breakdown of votes for the 1983 general election that the Conservative Party achieved 62% support among the professional and managerial classes, while Labour received only 12% of the vote from the same social group. By contrast, the Conservatives received achieved only 29% support among the semi- and unskilled manual labourers, with Labour taking 44% of the vote there. This clearly shows the effect of the division in British politics. (Gallup poll, published in the Guardian, 13 June, 1983, reproduced by Bartolini, S. And Norton, P. in "Party Politics In Contemporary Western Europe" (Eds)Frank Cass, Bristol, 1984, chp: 'Britain- still a two- party system?' by P. Norton, p36.)

A second identifier of cleavage, according to the Lipset - Rokkan analysis will be that each citizen will be aware of and will identify with those that they perceive to hold similar views to their own on social moral and political issues. Lipset cites the emergence of Trade Union movements in post-war Europe as an example of this sense of common identity leading to a cleavage between the upper-middle and working classes. "As the workers organised into Trade Unions (...) the upper classes gradually made concessions to the demands for adult suffrage." (S.M. Lipset in "Mass Politics" by Allardt and Rokkan (Eds) Collier- Macmillan, U.S.A 1970, p25.) This brings us neatly on to the third feature identified by Lipset and Rokkan.

The third feature of a cleavage for Lipset and Rokkan is that the difference of opinion will be manifested in the creation of a formal body, such as a trade union, political lobby group or political party. Lipset gives the example of the European socialist parties that emerged in the post-war period, who, he says, had " an elaborate formal structure, dues-paying members and branches which held regular meetings" (Allardt and Rokkan, p25).

These three factors combined will, according to Lipset and Rokkan explain why any given individual or social grouping voted the way they did in any given election. It will also, they claim, hold true in the future (post 1970) because of what they termed the 'freezing' of party structure. (Lipset and Rokkan, p50). The Lipset and Rokkan analysis has an abundance of evidence to support it, not least how accurately the cleavages it identifies are reflected in twentieth century Western Europe, as I will now demonstrate.

The first cleavage accounted for by the Lipset and Rokkan analysis is the centre- periphery cleavage. This is the divide that occurs between the densely populated urban centre of a country and the lower-...
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