Voting Behaviour

Partisan alignment is the long-term loyalty of voters to a particular political party due to a correlation of identity between both voter and that party. In the 1950’s the majority of working class voters voted Labour and the majority of the middle class vote went to the Conservatives. In 1950 90% of voters voted for the two main parties, this increased to 96% in 1955, showing the partisan alignment of voters in the 1950’s. In recent times there is evidence of partisan de-alignment, in 1964 45% of voters felt a strong allegiance to either the Conservative or Labour party.

By 1979 this had decreased to 21% and in 2001 it had fallen to 13%, showing voters’ recent partisan de-alignment. Using your own knowledge as well as the extract, explain how party leaders have become more central to the election campaign. During the early post war era people were wedded to their parties on the basis of long-term influences such as social class and socialisation, these factors would have been of greater importance than the party leader because regardless of the current leader the ideology that led the voter to identify with the party would remain intact.

In the current media age it is important that the party leader has a good image as many voters will only see the party through the eyes of the media, it is the sole format in which they will view politics. Parties will try to make their leader as appealing to the public as possible by making sure they are likely to charm voters. The leader must be personable, relaxed and genial when making public appearances so these are qualities that parties look for in their leaders.

If your leader doesn’t possess these qualities they must possess other admirable qualities. For instance many people do not like Margaret Thatcher as a person, but even so they see her natural leadership qualities, toughness and resilience which appeal to them. In the early 1980’s Michael Foot lacked a leadership quality and when put next the Thatcher he didn’t seem to be electable as Thatcher had her strong sense of leadership and direction.

Neil Kinnock did a lot to rebrand labours image but image alone wasn’t enough as voters felt like the campaign had become too Americanised. In 1994 Tony Blair was a very successful choice of leader as he appeared youthful, dynamic and charismatic; he was an effective communicator on screen and portrayed the perfect image for Labour. Blair was able to appeal to the middle classes and women voters as well as holding on to some of the usual Labour voters. This led to him winning the 1997 general election by a landslide.

Within his campaign he used a number of devices to win over voters; he made sure he seemed genuine about new Labour by introducing clause four, he convinced people he was personable, relaxed and genial on his many public appearances, he appeared in hospitals and schools getting the perfect photo opportunity. He was a great communicator and connected with people at the time of the election. He was backed by the press, and the general media and polls never portrayed him in a bad light.

These factors combined made him the perfect leader in the eyes of the voters. Overall in modern times it is very important to have a leader that is both liked and respected by the voters and someone who is a natural leader as voters choose a party based upon short term factors opposed to long term factors, and getting the leader right can prove important in your campaign as in the case of Tony Blair because it can lead to a majority win. Consider the extent to which short term factors are now more important than long term factors in shaping voting behaviour.

In the 1950’s when partisan alignment was apparent the factors for voting were very much different to how they are in present times. Short term factors were less significant to voters because it was the policies and political ideology of a party that were important. People would choose to vote on the basis of which party met their personal needs the best and which policies benefited them the most, rather than voting on the basis of the appearance of the party and their current leader.

There was a clear divide between both the working and middle classes and the Labour and Conservative policies. In the 1950’s the parties had rather different stances on core issues to how they are in recent times. The conservatives were about freedom, the individual and status quo whereas the Labour party were about state intervention, equality and change. This clear political ideology made it easy for most people to vote on the basis of identifying with policies rather than image.

In modern times the main parties have rather similar policies on core areas like healthcare, education and crime. Although the parties have their basis in their old ideologies, it is not as clear cut as it used to be. This is also reflected in the way people vote as many voters are no longer wedded to a particular party. People vote on the basis of short term factors such as the economy, the leader, political issues and images and the impact of the media.