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participation and voting behaviour

Participation and voting
Unit 1
Definition of politics
It is how we are governed and concerns the way decisions are made by the
government. It also resolves conflict between different groups in society and
concepts ideas like: democracy, equality, tyranny and violence.
Politics exists as we are described as ‘social animals’ and live in groups, which
we make decisions about our lives; how we distribute resources with
discussions how we make them.
We need to define power and authority as we have leaders that exercise
power and authority over us.
Political power
Power can be designed as the ability to achieve a desired outcome. It is the
ability to influence the behaviour of others and having power over others and
can be seen as the currency of politics as decisions can be made and
Having the legitimate right to exercise political power and majority of people will
accept doing so, implying that people will obey them and no force will have to be
used as they have respect and recognition that they are justified in doing so. To
have power you need to have authority.
Charismatic authority- a leader that is believed to have exceptional qualities
(super-human or supernatural). They can sway and control their followers by direct
emotional appeals and have loyal followers. Ex: Jesus Christ, Alexander the Great,
Napoleon, Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
Traditional authority- derives from a belief in the ‘rightness’ of established
customs and traditions controlled by feelings of loyalty and obligation to longestablished positions of power. Ex: monarchs that emerged from the basis of a
feudal society (Henry 8th).
Rational-legal authority- legitimacy and control are derived from following an
accepted set of rules and can issue commands and have them accepted due to the
accepted legal framework and supports their authority – liberal democracies in
Western world.
Authoritarian regimes- power and authority is based on the threat of force (Adolf
Hitler, Stalin)
The legitimate authority is gained from the consent of the people with free
elections with a choice of candidates and a range of policies. The winner has
mandate from the people to rule them. In most governments few people will govern
and the mass of people will follow. However involvement outside of these events is
Important elements are:
Popular control of policy makers through regular elections
Free and fair elections
Existence of open and organised opposition parties
Law making in hands of elected representatives
Political equality
Political freedom
Types of democracy
Pluralism- the dispersal of power between a number of different competing
Limited government- checks and limitations on the power of the government
in order to secure essential civil liberties.
Open government- non-secretive government that can be seen as fair and
Independent judiciary- a just, impartial and independent legal system based
on equal access to the law.
Free and open media- newspaper and broadcasting being allowed to operate
freely without government pressure.
There are many forms of participation but voting is the main type.
▶ Joining a political party
▶ Joining a pressure group
▶ Writing to your MP
▶ Terrorists
▶ Pro-democracy protester that stood in front of tank in Tiananmen Square
Our conventional ideas of participation is very narrow. It can be defined as
‘individuals that intend to influence who governs or decisions taken by
Level of participation has decreased over few years.
!974- 78.8% 2001-59.4
Local, devolved assemblies and European turnout figures are much lower
(average 30-45%)
European election was in 2004 and turnout was 38.8%.
Reasons for less people voting
Apathy- Voters have no interest in voting and it has been caused in Britain for
many reasons:
▶ Loss of respect for politicians- in opinion polls they are seen as not being
trusted and have allegations of ‘sleaze’ with examples of poor conduct.
▶ Alienation of different groups- refers to 18-25 year olds and ethnic
minorities. They feel that politics is unbeneficial for them. So do not
▶ Party dealignment- voting was in greater numbers in the 1950s due to
stronger party identification as party identification was lower and so is the
voting turnout.
▶ Many people feel as if a single vote will not make a difference, therefore
they find other ways to express their views.
Abstainers are people that do not cast their vote in elections
▶ Passive abstainers- negative or apathetic non-voters that have little or no
interest in politics.
▶ Active abstainers- refuse to vote as they may disagree with electoral system
or feel as if the candidates do not represent their views.
Disillusionment with the major parties
Labour ▶ Since 1990s Blair has transformed Labour and shifted it from its socialist
▶ Many traditional supporters are not happy and decide not to vote. Evidence
supports this as in 2001 election where 96 of the 100 constituencies were
‘safe’ Labour seats.
Conservatives▶ Decline since 90s
▶ Divided over the issue of voting
▶ Many people not clear on what they stand for and many MPs not classed as
good leaders therefore many people didn’t vote for them.
2001 and 2005 election
▶ In last 2 elections it was clear that Lab was going to win. This may have lead
to low turnout. Disillusionment with cons and lab aided low turnout. A higher
turnout in 2010 can support this argument (65.1%)
Ways to participate
Traditionally most common way is to vote but it isn’t very effective to influence
the government.
▶ If you live in safe constituency your vote is unlikely to have an impact
▶ Increasingly globalised world does government have a real impact?
▶ Direct action more effective (fuel protest 2000, anti-war protest)
Becoming member of political party (cons and labour is around 200,000)
Wearing party badge, putting poster of party that you support
Writing to your MP
Writing to newspaper
Taking part in TV programme or radio
Opinion polls
Being part of focus groups
Seeking elections - local councils, european parliament
Member of pressure group - RSPB, trade unions
Direct action- protest, strike
Political violence - 7/7 bombings
Who participates
Most people participation does not go beyond voting in a general election every 4-5 years.
Most voters lack knowledge in major events and don't even know their MP. A survey by
Ivor Crewe (1992) suggests that 80% of pupils do not involve in a discussion of politics
at home.
Milbrath and Goel (1977) divided the US population into a few gladiators (5-7%) that fight
the political battle, large group of spectators (60%) that watch but rarely participate in
any other way and ⅓ of apathetics that do not participate in any way.
Parry et al. (1992) surveyed more than 1500 people in Britain during 1980s. He found out
that not everyone participates (25%) and those that do participate at the same rate or
in the same way was only 23.2% and 51% limited their involvement.
This research 20-30 years ago so may be outdated and participation has decreased since
with new ways of participating.
In America and UK there is a high percentage of under-class that are uninformed,
uninterested and alienated about politics. The main parties don’t do a lot to help
The trust in government has decreased as they feel they are untrustworthy and do not act
in public interests. Britain had a middle ranking of trust. Robert Putman believes that if
people do not trust them it is a signs that democratic process is not working as well as
it should be.
Factors affecting participation
Young people less likely to vote and not interested in traditional
methods but likely to take action in direct methods. Middle-aged
and older people likely to vote and interested in traditional
High turnout in Jewish and Asian voters. Turnout for AfroCaribbean voters is usually lower.
Men more likely to vote and participate traditionally but more
women playing an active role in politics as political scientists
didn’t see female organizations- Women’s Institute.
Higher in urban areas than rural areas due to difficulty in
transport. Inner cities participation is lower due to the actual
Social and personality
Those brought up in a politically active family are more likely to
participate. Also those that are more outspoken and outgoing.
Social class
Those with a better education and higher income are more likely
to participate. Education is strong determinant as the activity
involves skills associated with higher levels of education.
Importance of participation
It is the people that hold the government to
account, voting is important but it is not
enough. Politically aware electorate can
see through government deception and
If there are no opportunities for
participation there can be more alienation
and exclusion for social groups.
Participation is a way of stopping political
extremism because if people sit back and
do nothing they have to participate to show
their views by objecting (7/7)
Participation can counter apathy, alienation
and ignorance as more people are becoming
involved and informed it is possible to
change the democratic system.
By not voting people do not have a say
about the activities of the government and
cannot influence decisions (taxes, NHS).
Fighting for the right to vote (suffragettes,
Zimbabwe 2008)
Vote is a major symbol of citizenship
Many over-empathise importance of
traditional participation but society has
changed and new participation is easier due
to technological developments (internet).
They are able to pick issues that they see as
most important compared to joining large
party and having minor part.
Politics is not an important aspect of their
lives most people in Britain earn well and
live well.
People generally only participate in high
numbers in times of crisis (Depression in
Germany) but if they are relaxed they are
content with the existing system.
Little to be done to boost participation,
government has tried to increase by having
booths in supermarkets and internet voting
but there was no significant increase
Voting behavior
Social structure model
▶ Social characteristics influence how we participate in politics. Social class is seen as a the
most important factor -1967. Puzler wrote that ‘class is basis’ Other factors: ethnicity,
religion, region and age also play a part. Since 1970s there has been class dealignment and
there is less consciousness of the class that people are in and it has led to a decline in
importance of class.
Party identification model
▶ The model suggests that our political influence are gained as we grow up- family, education
and the workplace. A sense of political loyalty is earned as they grow up watching and
reading certain media and earn a type of political loyalty called ‘partisan alignment’.
However the amount of people voting for the main parties has decreased since the 1960s.
Rational choice model
▶ An individual examining a number of factors and making a decision by looking at issues that
matter to the individual and whether the party deserves another year in the office.
Dominant ideology model
▶ The media influences individual's (view of Dunleavy and Husbands 1985, believed that the
media shapes the agenda ) Then people make up their minds running up to the general
Social class
This has been seen as the most important factor and is determined by:
▶ Occupation
▶ Educational background and qualifications
▶ Income
▶ Wealth
Traditionally this has led to working class voting labour and middle and upper
class voting conservatives.
In the 1945-1970 period this supports this idea as ⅔ of the population voted
depending on their social class.
Class dealignment
Since 1970s the impact of class has declined (Crewe, Benyon and Denver support this).
▶ Cons won 4 elections (1979-92) based on working class votes
▶ Thatcher’s policies were very popular among working class
▶ Many people are not aware of their social class - not so much an issue
▶ Class system is not rigid and people can move through class rapidly (John Major stated that
Britain is a ‘classless society’)
▶ The working class has shrunk due to loiss of traditional manufacturing jobs. Traditional
tradesmen are earning lots of money due to high demand.
▶ Labour won 3 elections (1997-2005) with a lot of middle class citizens.
2005 election
▶ Social class less important in voting behavior. Con led and was down in A/B class votes to 9%
(1992 32%) and labour won 28% of A/B vote.
Lib Dems
28 (33)
37 (40)
29 (21)
32 (39)
36 (35)
23 (20)
40 (47)
33 (29)
19 (18)
48 (50)
25 (27)
18 (18)
% of votes in 2005
Brackets is
percentage in 2001
Different regions can have an effect on who you vote for. Since the 1980s there
has been a North-South divide.
▶ Labour- North, industrial areas, Scotland and Wales
▶ Cons- South, East Anglia, rural areas
▶ Lib Dems- South West
Younger people generally more interested in Lab and older vote for Cons.
People may tend to get a more cons view as they get older possibly because
they are more realistic view. Also many people grew up with cons. Voters in
18-25 tend to be most volatile with lab. Younger voters tend to be more
idealistic and want a more peaceful world. By having more social jsutice and
a genuine attempt to tackle world popularity. As they grow older they may
realise that the tax burden to achieve this would fall on them therefore
changing their political outlook.
In 2001
18-24- 47% lab, 29% cons, 19% lib dem
65+- 37% lab, 42% cons, 18% lib dem
In 2005
18-24-38% lab, 28% cons, 26% lib dem
65+- 35% lab, 41% cons, 18% lib dem
Historically more women voted cons especially between 1979- 1992, possibly
because they were first party to have female leader. By the 2005 election
more women voting for lab due to the gender gap as suggested by political
▶ Labour attempted to boost number of female MPs and in HOC.
▶ Labour better at protecting women's work rights.
▶ Cons known for promoting the family and women staying at home but this is
no longer seen as acceptable.
2001 election
Men- lab 42%, cons 33%, lib dem 18%
Women- lab 42%, cons 33%, lib dem 20%
Men- lab 34%, cons 34%, lib dem 22%
Women- lab 38%, cons 32%, lib dem 23%
Women responsible
for lab win
Historical link between religion and voting behavior:
Labour- catholic
Conservatives- Church of England
Lib Dems- Non-conformists
Religion less important in communities and determining voting behaviour.
However in Northern Ireland it is still a key factor due to the
Catholic/Protestant divide.
Lib dem
Church of england
Labour favoured party for ethnic minorities
▶ Policies- more sympathetic for people's needs. Cons concentrate on
immigration, asylum seekers and are less sympathetic.
▶ Political geography- communities more common in urban areas and labour
strong in these areas and has made close links.
▶ Class- immigrants generally have low paid jobs and they are working class
and more likely to vote labour.
Lib dem
Party identification model
Psychological attachment to a party over a long time as they are a supporter.
Accepted model of voting behaviour in UK during 1960s.
▶ Many voters identify themselves with a particular party
▶ Identification is relatively stable and long lasting
▶ Influences voters’ attitudes towards issues, personalities and govt
▶ Party identification directly affects voting behavior
LInks to the ideas of ‘political socialisation’ as they acquire their beliefs early in
life and should stay with them.
Party dealignment
Sharp decline in share of vote between cons and lab since 1950s. In 1951
received 96.8%. 2005 accounted for only 67.5% of vote. Political scientists
believe this is because of party dealignment.
▶ Class dealignment- less conscious of their class and no need to vote for their
‘natural’ party. If people were no longer working class they may not class
themselves as labour supporters.
▶ Education- electorate better educated they are more likely to make a
rational decision compared to psychological attachment.
▶ Media- easy to access and voters may make decisions based on this.
▶ Ideological disjuncture- modern parties no longer represent their traditional
political ideology, therefore meaningless to identify with particular party.
Issue voting
NHS- 89%
▶ Law and order/crime-82%
▶ Education-81%
▶ Economy-74%
Some parties cannot rely on class or
loyalty of supporters for their voters,
as many voters will examine the
election manifestoes and choose the
party that best suits their views and
issues that they find most important
NHS- 21%
Both elections supported Labour as
▶ Economy- 15%
▶ Law and order- 13% they are seen as being effective at
running public services.
▶ Education- 15%
Some problems with issue voting include:
Hard to know the exact impact as unknown whether it's on the parties policies or policy
position due to voters agreeing with them.
⅔ of the population did not agree with labour's decision of Iraq war but still voted for them
Doubts on whether voters just vote on one issue alone
Model ignores the impact from media and how issue is presented to media.
Perceptions of competence
Model shows how well government performed in past and how well voters think
they will perform in future- generally connected with economy.
▶ Prospective model- how well the govt run economy in future
▶ Retrospective model- how well have they done in the past
Past elections (Labour 1970)
▶ Inflation at 26%
▶ Unemployment trebled
▶ Had to get a loan from IMF
▶ Unions striked
Cons then attacked Labour
▶ Electorate did not trust Labour when running the economy
▶ Cons seen at better running the economy
▶ Labour out of office ‘97
Cons got destroyed in ‘97 due to £ being withdrawn from misjudging value of
pound on Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Gordon Brown in power and ‘credit crunch’ happened and there was a slow down
in housing market, rise in fuel and cost of food.
Impact of party leaders
Most people not interested in policies and gain information from media- more
like American presidential system. Style of leaders more important but can be
argued that not important as leaders are around for 6-7 years.
▶ Strong leader (iron lady)
▶ Black leather coat
▶ Decisive
John Major
▶ Struggled takeover
▶ Weak
▶ Disunited with cons
▶ ‘Bastards’ to describe cabinet showing he couldn't control his party
▶ Weak boring
▶ Peas and grey
Impact of mass media
Political scientists believe that media is one of the most important factors in determining voting
behaviour. People rely on media as they hardly read manifestos or go to public meetings. This may
be dangerous as they can impose their views on society: Ex Rupert Murdoch (Sun, The Times, Sky)
Television and radio
▶ Politically neutral
▶ Most important and trusted source (97% of homes have a TV)
▶ What they report has an impact
▶ Both parties try to bully the BBC for more coverage
▶ Alastair Campbell (and other Spin Doctors) increasing importance in politics
▶ Broadcasts have 5 mins to put points across
▶ 60% of people over age of 15 will read a morning newspaper
▶ Politically biased
▶ 1992- supported cons
▶ 1997- supported lab
▶ Hard to know whether they change views of readers or reinforce their views
Impact of media
▶ Lazarsfield- media reinforced ideas than changing them
▶ Majority people working in TV are white, middle aged, upper/middle class
▶ No study of long term impact but short term it is more likely to change minds from election to
election and media will influence this
▶ Parties want to build good relations (new labour Blair met with Murdoch before ‘97 election)
Impact of election campaign
Common for high profile figures to lose their job if campaign is unsuccessful.
Due to class and party dealignment there is a change that the voters minds
can be changed. The purpose of a campaign is to:
▶ Reinforce views of voters that are already committed to the party
▶ Gain support of the undecided
▶ Convert other voters that support other parties
In ‘97 and ‘01 it was clear lab was going to win therefore campaigns were not
very necessary
2005 campaign
▶ Labour discussed how Britain had the lowest mortgage rate for 40 years and
lowest unemployment since the 70s.
▶ Improved public services
▶ Cons would cut public services
Electorate is more likely to change its mind at the next election, meaning a
change in government. Looking at the pattern of general elections it can be
seen as stable as cons won 4 then lab won 3.
Electorate can be volatile at other levels like by-elections and european
elections and can send warning signs to the government.
Younger voters can be seen as more volatile as it is likely to change their vote at
the next election.
Opinion polls
Discover feelings on certain issue and discovers people’s intended voting
behaviour by having a poll sample from 1000 people.
They often have a ‘bandwagon’ effect and it encourages people to vote for
party that is most popular. Or they have a ‘boomerang’ effect that picks up
sympathy votes for parties losing, or it scares people as they may not want
the leading party to win.
In ‘92 election opinion polls predicting a narrow labour victory (average of 1.3%
victory) But cons ended up winning by 7.6% possibly due to ‘boomerang’
effect. Reasonably accurate in 3 most recent elections.
It means the amount of votes that are needed for a party to win from the other
party to win a constituency/election. Ex: labour won 10% more votes in previous
election the swing would have to be 10% for cons as they need to win 5% of the
vote and reduce lab vote by 5% to win.
Tactical voting
Voter decides not to vote for a party but vote for another party to stop another
one from winning. Can only take place in certain circumstances- in a
constituency where there is a close vote between 2 parties and a distant 3rd.
A lab voter would vote for lib dem (vice versa).
Mainly happens in by-elections compared to general elections.
2010 election
First hung parliament since February 1974. Cons won 307 seats but fell short of
326 needed for a majority. Disappointing for cons as they were leading polls
since ‘09 and lab were unpopular.
▶ Net gain of 97 seats
▶ Swing of b5% from lab to cons largest since ‘79
▶ Lab lost 91 seats
▶ Lab won 29% of popular vote, marginally better than ‘83.
Lib dems had good poll rating after Nick Cleggs televised debate. Only small
increase in popular vote and lost 5 seats.
Cons and lab won less than ⅔ of the vote for first time compared to ww2
Green party had its first seat in parliament but natioanl vote fell. BNP had
500,00 votes but agined no seats, The independent MPs George Galloway and Dr
Richard Taylor were defeated.
Voters will usually send a ‘warning shot’ and it is common if safe seats can be
overturned and this is called as ‘protest voting’. It is negative vote against a
party or policy.
Ex Brent East constituency
▶ 2001 won by Labour with majority of 13,047
▶ In a by election in September 2003 lib dems won with a majority of 1,118.
Bethnal Green and Bow
▶ 2005 general election George Galloway won with a majority of just under
1,000, for the respect party.
▶ This is because of high Muslim population- Iraq war which lab supported
▶ Before it was a strong labour constituency
Trend began in 1960s and the result is usually back to the way it was before and
often the victory is based on the apathy of the government’s voters.
Local elections
Since 1980s powers have been taken away from councils therefore voters
believe there is little point voting (typical turnout is 30%).
If they do vote they concentrate on the national level rather than local level
▶ Labour did bad in Local elections (2007&2008) because of Blair and Brown,
rather than Labour councillors.
Devolved assemblies/parliaments
Since labs victory in 1997 they wished to give more power and responsibility to
local councils at local level - devolution. In the Scottish Parliament has a lot
of power and this has led to a higher turnout (51.8% in 2007 comp to 43.7% in
In the 2007 London election between Boris and Ken, which had lots of media
coverage and turnout was 45%- high figure for local election.
European elections
Similar to local elections with low turnouts (1999 only 24% but rose to 39% in
2004). Voters usually apply their feelings at national level and may ignore the
work done by their European representatives.
Can be caused by:
▶ Voters are generally uninformed about role of EU and its true role.
▶ Elections can not change the government and does not create a real
▶ Key political figures play a limited role in the election campaigns.
▶ Limited media coverage.