Elections & Voting Explained
Explaining Voting Behaviour: Social Factors vs Rational Choice?
For Rational Choice
Rational Choice ideas have been used widely in the social sciences as an explanation of human behaviour. Voting is not something separate but just a particular type of social behaviour.
Rational Choice Theory is more relevant in a society in which people are more educated, have access to a wider range of media and is more individualistic, with a better understanding of issues and less influenced by family and other social networks.
Measures of class voting show clearly the decline in class voting for the Conservative and Labour parties. Greater volatility of voting and weaker party identification are also indicators of this.
The most recent study of British elections, Political Choice in Britain, found that valence issues were a gave a better explanation of voting than class or any other social factor.
For Social Factors
There are still differences in class voting between the parties and other social factors such as housing tenure, age and ethnicity show differences in party support.
The nature of social class has changed with many people in poorly paid jobs in the service sector and so the traditional measure of class by occupational groups may no longer be the best one to use in trying to explain voting.
People preferences are not an individual characteristic that they are born with but are strongly affect by their background and social contacts.
Voters are mostly able to place themselves in a social class. It may not be that class is no longer important but that the political parties do not always mobilise the classes to vote by providing policies and arguments that appeal to them. For example, UKIP has managed to mobilise working class support that Labour, in recent elections has failed to.
When voters are asked to order their policy preferences, they often fail to or produce a different order depending on how the question is framed. Voters’ judgement of government performance on valence issues such as the economy or public services is based on which party they support rather than being an independent judgement.