The changing shape of class voting. An individual-level analysis of party support in Britain, Germany and Switzerland

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2008


In the 1990s, sociologists engaged in a heated controversy about class voting. Although empirical evidence accumulated, positions remained surprisingly divided. This paper argues that this disagreement is due to two factors. Firstly, it reflects diverging understandings as to the concept of class voting. Secondly, it is explained by the use of class models that do not satisfactorily represent today’s social stratification in Western Europe. In consequence, this paper uses a detailed multi-class schema and examines two cleavages running through the social structure: (i) the economic divide separating holders of organizational power from the workingclass, (ii) the cultural divide opposing high-skilled classes engaged in interpersonal work settings (who hold a liberation view of community) from low-skilled classes occupied in object-related tasks (who hold an authoritarian view of community). Based on individual level data, our analyses show that classes continue to systematically differ in their party support. There is strong electoral evidence for the traditional economic cleavage in Britain’s and Germany’s class structure, while in Switzerland the cultural cleavage seems more salient. Hence, class voting continues but appears to involve more (and different) class-party alliances than just leftvoting by the woking class. Among others, we find salaried professionals in the social and cultural services to rally the libertarian left, while managers support parties on the right. Moreover, where a right-wing populist party alternative exists, it attracts disproportionate support from production workers and small business owners.

Key words: class; class voting; party support; cleavage; middle class

Published in

European Societies


Volume: 10 (3):329-355




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