Long-term factors

Class and religious cleavages

Authored by: Geoffrey Evans , Ksenia Northmore-Ball

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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The extent to which party choices are structured by social divisions and the origins of these divisions, as well as change in their strength over time, is important for understanding the politics of contemporary democracies. The Michigan Model stresses that class position helps account for perceptions and attitudes which in turn shape political choices (see Hutchings and Jefferson, this volume). It can explain, for example, why some people endorse income redistribution while others do not. Moreover, changes in the sizes of classes, the evolution of the class structure, can help explain the menu of party choices available to voters, as well as the consequences this has for their choices and whether they vote at all. Similarly, religious denomination and religiosity continue to form prominent cleavages in several societies; religion is after all one of the “triumvirate” of social bases of cleavages (class, religion, and language) identified in Lijphart’s seminal article (1979) and is identified as the oldest prominent cleavage in Lipset and Rokkan’s (1967) classic analysis. In the same way that class position can shape perceptions and attitudes, so does religion, though in areas such as abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage rather than distribution of economic resources. Changes in levels of religiosity can likewise be expected to influence the nature of party competition and the political choices presented to voters. Most research into the social bases of political divisions has been of a descriptive nature, focusing on the strength of cleavages across time and space. This chapter addresses that approach, but also covers a newer body of work that aims to address explanations for variations in the strength of these cleavages.

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