Voting behaviourVoting behaviour is the way in which people tend to vote. Voting is influenced bya number of different factors. The most important are: social class geography age and background issue voting mediaSocial classWhen voting analysis began in 1945 it became clear that social class was themost important factor in the way people traditionally voted. People tended tovote according to their natural class. This is not a perfect classification but willexplain the social class influences on voting behaviour: A - upper class B – upper middle class C1 – lower middle class C2 - upper working class D - lower working class E - long-term unemployedFrom the 1940s to the 1960s the majority of the electorate were stronglylinked to one or other of the two main political parties. Although there arealways exceptions, party loyalty closely corresponded to social class. C1 and C2voters tended to vote for the Labour Party and B voters tended to vote for theConservative Party.In the mid 1960s, B voters supporting Conservative and C1 and 2 voterssupporting Labour accounted for 64% of the total vote. But the 1970s saw adecline in the number of people voting according to their natural class; this isreferred to as class dealignment. By 1979, this had fallen to 57% of the totalvote and the decline continued throughout the 1980s confirming that theBritish public were moving away from voting according to class.
One explanation for this is that the electorate was becoming better educatedthrough more access to the media, which gave increasingly more information onpoliticians and parties. Also, in the 1980s and early 1990s, more C2 voterstended to vote Conservative. In the 1987 General Election, 42% of C2 voterssupported the Conservative Party while only 35% voted for Labour. This was atotal reversal of previous voting behaviour and was, partly, attributed to thepolicies of the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.The move away from voting according to class could also be due to a change inthe size of the classes. Since the 1970s, the number of manual workers hasfallen from nearly 50% of the population to just 33%. This is because of thechanges in employment patterns, educational opportunities and the risingstandard of living.However, although it appears that voters are moving away from their naturalclass, statistics suggest that voting behaviour and class are still linked to someextent. In 2001, the highest social class, AB, voted 40% in favour of theConservatives - less than in previous elections, but still a strong vote. Almosthalf of the working classes still voted Labour. The transfer of working classvotes to Conservative and upper class votes to Labour might also be due to thefact that New Labour policies are moving further to the right. Although theelections in 1997 and 2001 saw Labour regaining C1 and C2 voters, this trendmay be attributed to the collapse of the Conservative Party. It is said thatopposition parties do not win elections; governments lose them.In the 2010 General Election the Conservatives gained from all groups with theexception of the lowest class DE which stayed Labour. ABC1 (grouped together)had a 39% vote for the Conservatives while Labour had 27%. In the C2 class37% voted Conservative compared to 29% for Labour, and in the DE group 31%voted Conservative and 40% Labour.GeographyThere is a consistent north/ south divide in voting behaviour in the UK. Thenorth (Wales is also strongly Labour) tends to favour Labour and the southfavours the Conservative Party. In 2001, the southern part of England voted56.3% for the Conservative Party whilst the north of England, Scotland andWales voted 82.4% in favour of the Labour Party. This pattern may be linked tothe industrial past of the UK when heavy industry and links to trade unions wereconcentrated in Central Scotland, the North of England and Wales.In 2010, Labour lost support in Scotland and Wales, generally to the Lib Demsor the SNP.
Age and backgroundThe writer G.B. Shaw once wrote that If you are not a socialist by the time youare 25, you have no heart. If you are not a Conservative by the time you are 35,you have no head. There is a link between age and party support, although it isnot easy to say why this is. Those under 35 tend to vote Labour and theConservative vote increases with age. This may be because Labour wastraditionally seen to be the idealistic party vote, looking for a more egalitariansociety.There is also a link between ethnicity and voting behaviour. The Labour partyhas tended to benefit from the ethnic minority vote, especially the Afro-Caribbean vote. This may be because, in the past, Labour policies have seemedmore sympathetic towards ethnic minorities.The Conservative again Conservatives made gains in 2010. Ipsos MORI has adetailed breakdown of how Britain voted in 2010.Issue VotingPublic opinion is also influenced by what the parties publish in their manifestos -declarations of what they intend to do if they win the election. It is unlikelythat a party which says that it will increase taxes will gain many voters, even ifthe money is to improve education. The economy, health, education and crimealways feature highly on the minds of voters at election time. How a partyaddresses these and other important issues can either gain or lose them votes.MediaNewspapers, magazines, television and radio also influence voting behaviour. Themedia is the means whereby voters form opinions on the ability of politicalleaders and whether the Government is doing a good job or not. While few willadmit it, people are influenced incidentally by the editorial stance of anewspaper they read. People tend to buy the same newspaper regularly, oftenfor reasons other than its political stance. But they will be influenced by itseditorial opinions. Outside election times, most readers will not realise that theDaily Record favours the Labour Party and that the Daily Mail favours theConservative Party.
It is assumed that radio and television coverage of political issues is impartial.But, despite the most professional reporting, sometimes the natural inclinationsof individuals can seem to come out during an interview. All party leaders haveat some time complained about the BBC, which suggests that it is impartial in itscoverage. Many people believe that TV is more important than newspapers asfewer people buy newspapers now. However, politics can easily be avoided on TVby simply changing the channel.There is also seen to be a danger that the ownership of the media is beingconcentrated in too few hands. News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch,controls a large number of news and media organisations. There are concernsthat, as a result, he is able as an individual to shape public opinion and influencevoting behaviour. In the run up to the 2010 UK General Election, the Sunnewspaper ran the headline ‘Labour’s Lost it’, letting readers know it hasswitched its support from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party. The Sunhas the largest circulation figures in the UK and famously supported the LabourParty in 1997.The Internet now plays an important role in influencing voters. Like newspapers,websites are allowed to show bias. Politicians and political parties are keen touse websites, blogs, wikis, podcasts or having listings on social networkingwebsites like facebook and twitter as a way of reaching voters, especially youngvoters. Young voters are less likely to vote. Voter apathy is a major obstacle forall political parties and politicians alike, with only 61% of voters turning out tovote in the 2005 General Election.