Recent elections in the UK and the USA

In order to answer this question, key terms in it need to be defined, explained and explored. In this essay, I am going to be answering three questions, which, will point, toward a final conclusion. Firstly, we will need to discover the source of the dealignment thesis, what are its characteristics and what are its implications. Secondly, I am going to have to investigate, whether, either, the UK or the USA, in recent elections, bear any characteristics of the dealignment thesis. Thirdly, I am going to conclude whether recent elections in Britain and America support the dealignment thesis.

It is my belief that although we can find characteristics of the dealignment theory, elections are too complex and exclusive events to assign one label to them. Indeed, I believe there are even more important factors that affect election results. Walter Dean Burnham, an American political scientist, first put the dealignment thesis forward in his discussion of 'electoral desegregation', in 1970. Two years later Wallenberg was to describe they're as being a "dealignment in American politics", it was this expression that was to become more commonly used.

The dealignment thesis, put simply, is the concept that, citizens instead of shifting allegiances from one party to another, have in fact dropped any allegiance at all. Voters are now very susceptible to election-to-election appeals (S. Maisel, 2001: 57). The electorate now, its is argued have "weaker less cumulative allegiances" (I. Crewe, 1983: 183) Therefore, traditional predictors of whom the electorate now vote for, based on party partisanship, class, and ideological alignment, cannot, now be used. I am going to show how, disenfranchisement from these three factors supports, the dealignment thesis.

Party partisanship is, a key feature of the dealignment thesis. Ivor Crewe argues that it is the, "strongest single correlate for long term party loyalty. " (I Crewe, 1983: 188) Its essence is that voters feel a strong affinity towards one of the parties and will vote for them despite the political situation. Seemingly, it can be summed up, as "Voters' loyalties were emotional rather than rational. " (www. rdg. ac. uk) If we look back to our definition of dealignment, we can see that one of its characteristics was that fewer voters were aligned to a party.

I must question whether recent elections have shown there to be a decrease in non-partisan voters indicating dealignment in voting in the UK and USA. Certainly, there seems to be much support for the decrease in partisanship amongst scholars in Britain; "party loyalties have increasingly become overridden by other short term factors in recent election. " (I Crewe, 1983: 189) While in the USA "partisan ties have become weaker than they were twenty or even thirty years ago. " (S. Wayne, 2001: 74).

Two factors, those who feel no identification to any party, and those who feel a very strong identification to the party can demonstrate party partisanship. In Britain in 2001 "only 14% described themselves as 'very strong' party supporters. " This was from a high point of 40% in the 1960's. (J. Fisher et al. , 2003: 163) In 1996 52% of voters "did not identify with either party. " (E. C Ladd, 1997: 15) While in America the situation is mirrored, in 1996, "29% of voters strongly identified with Republican or Democrats. " While in 1964 this figure was 38% (D.

McKay, 2002: 35) "Voters are becoming more ambivalent towards their parties. " (S. Maisel, 2001: 57) We can see that those who are 'very strong' supporters of parties are becoming fewer. The other determinate of dealignment in voting was whether there was an increase in those who were independent of any party affiliation. In USA "between 1960 and 1993 the number of voters calling themselves independent rose from 23% to 33%. " (D. McKay, 2002: 36) Therefore a third of voters in USA were without a preference of who to vote for, "indeed it may well be 50% or more.

" (D. McKay, 2002: 36) In Britain "dilution of partisanship occurred with reasonable uniformity. " (I. Crewe, 1983: 191) Recent election data and commentary seem to support the dealignment thesis however we must be cautious "residual attachments to major parties remain widespread. " (I. Crewe, 1983: 19) We described dealignment as, 'the reduction if not loss of class alignment to a specific party'. Indeed, class "has been the primary choice almost exclusive social base of party choice. " (I. Crewe, 1983 p192) in Britain the debate about embourgeoisement resurfaced.

There were areas of working class voters who became more prosperous, particularly in the south. Increased share ownership combined with the decrease in price and increased availability blurred the lines between the working and middle class. This was compounded by the decline in traditional industrials, with the emergence of new industries. Conservatives therefore held a grip on the prosperous South increasing their share of the working class vote meanwhile Labour dominated the areas of economic decay and decline.

Most commentators have therefore indicated a loosening of traditional ties with parties, by citing that a smaller percentage of the electorate conforms to the class stereotype, reducing the likelihood of class solidarity in voting behaviour. (www. rdg. ac. uk) Seemingly a "committed electorate has made way for hesitant electorate. " (I. Crewe, 1983: 204) While "relationship between class and vote has been less strong since 1970. " (D. Denver, 2003: 62) In the USA we have a situation whereby usually the economically vulnerable vote Democratic whilst the wealthy vote Republican.

The point of debate centres on shifting alliances of various minority groups. While African Americans, Hispanics, Roman Catholics and Jewish people vote Democratic, Protestant White Americans vote almost exclusively with Republicans. (G. Peele et al. 2002: 20-22) the argument regarding dealignment can be highlighted on the erosion of the 'New Deal Coalition', meaning the voters who where united under Theodore Roosevelt's reforms during the 1930's following the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, have become less a part of the effective electorate.

So while there was a Democratic consensus that perpetrated until the 1960's it has not been replaced by any significant voting bloc. (S. Maisel, 2001: 56) Put simply "a variety of social changes and political developments have come together and interacted to produce a weakening of class alignments. " (D. Denver, 2003: 66) A factor in explaining dealignment in voting in the UK and USA is the reduction in ideological ties to parties. Its implication is that if voters believe less in what the parties are standing for it's likely to create more disenfranchised voters who conform to fewer historical voting patterns.

In Britain in 2001 "around 44% of voters aged 18-34 did not identify with any party at all. " (A. King et al. , 2001: 169) in America similar problems are abound. "Voters were conflicted over basic ideology. " (G. Pomper et al. , 2001: 74) in America with the mass media playing a vital role within the election ideology has to be shorter and sharper. There is less 'air time' to project an ideology to the entire public. This leads to a focus on personality and more precisely what the candidate appears to stand for while not being explicit. In 2004 US Election a Republican television advert simply carried the message "I'm George W.

Bush and I approve this message. " There is less to vote for in terms of policy substance but in the projection of what a candidate can do. The 1997 election in Britain saw the very clear projection of image rather than ideology. Tony Blair stood depicted as the young face of New Labour. He was shown as being able to invigorate the country after the old and stuffy ways of Major, Hird and Howard. I think this has been a major determinate for voters turning away from ideological voting, as there is less focus on what a party stands for more what the candidates represent.

Indeed Al Gore was heavily criticised in 2000 for focusing too much on policy and as consequence confusing the electorate. Thus voters are very susceptible to election packaging of candidates. I have, in my opinion, shown, how, in both UK and USA there is evidence that supports the dealignment thesis. This evidence is supported, by modern scholarship however there are points of conjecture, which need to be raised. Indeed, the very nature of comparing elections in the UK and USA when exploring the dealignment thesis is fraught with difficulties.

The electorate composition of the two countries is very different. When exploring issues such as 'class' there are few overlapping similarities, indeed Britain exists as a very class-conscious society, while America does not attach such prevalence to class position. The diversity of the countries also differs exceptionally; there is much to be gleaned from the study of African American voting in America while that cannot be applied here. In writing this essay I have been constantly bothered by comparing shifting voting patterns of two peoples who can share little, in terms of the society they exist in.

The dealignment thesis was borne out of the furnace of the civil rights movement in the United States. Its intention was to show how voting behaviour had been dealinged following a major divisive issue. These included, "slavery, federal intervention in the economy or desegregation. " (A. King, 2002: 210) The thesis's original thrust has had an unnatural fit over Britain's voting pattern. In recent elections there has not been that major divisive issue to split the electorate. Britain's political climate has undergone a gradual transformation rather than a seismic split in voting.

Britain has "never had an exclusively two party system. " (I. Crewe, 1983: 184) in the USA this has almost always been the case. Therefore it is easier to analyse voting between two parties. The dealignment thesis ignores the significance of the Liberal Democrat party in Britain as well as regional parties such as Sinn Fein. The original dealignment thesis was never intended to explain voting patterns in Britain. I also feel, that to cite dealignment is a too convenient approach to voting behaviour. Specifically, I think it ignores the political context of elections, as well as the candidates that are involved.

Elections here and in America remain independent events, affected by short-term issues as well as the long-term changes that underpin the dealignment thesis. If we look at the election of 2000 in America these issues are particularly relevant. The effect of the Clinton impeachment and the effect of his administrations moral fibre constantly being called into question were significant. Surely voters may have been swayed by some of this. As well as that the candidates' personality has more of an effect than ever.

It's the "candidate not the party. " (S. Maisel, 2001: 56) that wins elections, and ultimately voters will always vote for who they think is best. In Britain Labours landslide victory in 1997 has to have been influenced by John Majors' governments criticisms regarding 'sleaze' as well as its very public divisions over Europe. My point is, that, voting statistics believe the context of the election and the feelings of the electorate. Electoral statistics cannot always reflect shifts in voting behaviour due to swings in public opinion.

When we made sweeping statements regarding parts of society, we must remember that we make them on the basis of the people who have voted. This is just over half of the voting population in the UK and USA on which we make these assumptions. It is "poorer people and those with lower levels of education vote. " (J. Doppelt and E. Shearer, 1999: 9). We must therefore be cautious of creating a mandate based on a voting picture that is less than whole. The dealignment thesis will always suffer from being inconclusive based on only a portion of the available data.

Though it is worth remembering that a major factor in falling turnout is the lack of any kind of identification with the candidates. What underpins the dealignment thesis is that voters have lost their inbuilt allegiances from political parties. However this affiliation certainly still exists, there may be more people who don't feel attached to a party but "residual attachments to the two main parties remain widespread. " (I. Crewe, 1983: 190) I feel there is an overemphasis of those who have dropped their alliances. A fairer assessment would be that loyalty "has been overridden by other short term factors.

" (I. Crewe, 1983: 189) I also feel that people don't just feel totally ambivalent towards parties. I think everyone resonates with at least one party and while they may not feel strongly there is inkling, when voting. There are three factors; I believe that answer changes within voting behaviour that help explain the changes that I have depicted. Education in the UK and USA has improved and been more far reaching than thirty years ago. This increased awareness of the political world around us has reduced the need to be affiliated to a party to explain to us the "complex political world.

" (D. Denver, 2003: 55) Indeed there is "less of a need for a psychological device to simplify the world. " (D. Denver, 2003: 55) The explosion of the mass media has compounded increased political awareness. The media plays a pivotal role in elections today; its use provides parties a chance to reach an audience unimaginable thirty years ago. "Political awareness and sophistication may be consequence of increased television coverage of politics. " (D. Denver, 2003: 56) Due to the media those with strong or exceptionally hard line views have been marginalized.

"Partisans are projected as unreasonable ideologues. " (D. Denver, 2003: 56) This has ensured that parties in the UK and USA have been pushed to centrist polices. Its effects have ensured less of a stark choice for the electorate. It has become so difficult to choose between parties that are seemingly offering very similar things, that it's reduced to a popularity contest between the front-runners. The ease of access for voters to information about the public and private life of government has given us twenty-four hour scrutiny of government. We know more about politics today than we ever have.

Its net result is that on Election Day we have more information and tools with which to make our choices about who will govern us. Paradoxically this has meant that the choices we make are more confused than ever. In many ways we have so much information at our disposal that we can't make real decisions, so it comes down to those few seconds in the polling booth. Dealignment, undoubtedly, is evident in recent elections in the UK and USA. In answering the question, to what extent the dealignment thesis is supported by recent elections, my answer is, inconclusive.

Certainly, recent elections uphold the key themes of the dealignment thesis. However this ignores glaring short-term factors that change seemingly obvious voters of a certain party to the opposition. It does; underline the long-term changes that society in both countries has undergone. Voting has blurred on traditional analytical lines of interpretation, though it has conformed around new ones. Recent elections are increasingly influenced by short-term factors. Dealignment fails to accurately interpret these factors into election data that represent events independent from the last.


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University of Reading, Politics Department: Voting Behaviour available at:…/VotingBehaviour.html, first accessed 20/11/04