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How do Voters Decide who to Vote for? – Social Class

Social Class – Butler and Stokes

Butler and Stokes concluded, from their detailed surveys of voters from 1963 to 1966, that these voters had a strong perception of which social class they belonged to and that this gave them a loyalty to either to Labour or Conservative party.  Party loyalty was generally adopted from parents and maintained throughout life.

Changes in elections were as much due to differences in the turnout of supporters on each side and changes as old voters died and a new generation of voters reached voting age, as due to direct switches between parties.

The Conservatives could not have won elections on the basis of middle class support alone and Butler and Stokes identified a group of ‘deferential’ Conservative voters, mostly older, who felt that rule by the higher social classes was best for the country (looked at in more detail by Robert Mackenzie and Alan Silver in Angels in Marble: working class Conservatives in urban England, 1965).

The sociological explanation of voting was adopted by political historians who have used it to explain party change in Britain in the first half of the 20th century.

The two parties from 1885, when the vote was extended to a majority of men, were the Liberals and the Conservatives, with religion the main social factor affecting the voters, though the Liberals were also the party of the periphery and the Conservatives the party of rural areas.

There is a debate as to how far there was working class support for the Liberal before 1914, but the main view is that, aided by the Liberal split between Asquith and Lloyd George in 1916, Labour replaced the Liberals as class became the main social cleavage.

Britain from the 1930s had a two party system based on class voting and Butler and Stokes found this to be still there in the 1960s.