Elections take place throughout Britain on a regular basis, for example only last week was there the controversial Police Commissioner elections. There are different types of elections such as, by- elections, local elections, devolved elections, European elections and general elections. Electoral campaigns have become more influential in recent elections due to the impact the media has these days. Long term factors that include social class, age, gender, region, and party identification, are also influential in elections, however not as much as they used to.
This now has posed the argument that ‘the election campaign is now more important than long term factors in shaping voting behaviour’. Traditionally the public, voting on elections, often voted for the same party repeatedly. This is because a strong link existed between social classes and voting. More people voted for the party they felt best represented their social group, for example the majority of working class would vote for Labour whereas the middle class would usually vote for the Conservatives.
However, since the 1980’s class voting has become less pronounced in general elections due to the distinctions between classes, being eroded. The evidence of class dealignment is clear as the Conservatives gained more support from the working class in the 1980’s, while Labour made significant gains among the middle class voters in 1997. This shows that the relationship between social class and voting, which is a long term factor in shaping voting behaviour, has weakened with fewer people voting for their social class.
Despite this decline in class voting Labour still remains the most popular among the working class, as well as Conservatives are still the most popular among the middle class. Furthermore, another long term factor that traditionally shapes voting behaviour is partisanship which is the stable, long term feelings of positive attachment to one of the main parties. This type of identification developed through socialisation or social learning in the home, school, workplace and neighbourhood, with most people voting for the same party as their parents.
Again, this long term factor has declined. As evidence shows in 1965, 43% of voters were ‘very strong’ supporters of one of the main parties, but in 2005 only 13% were. Another long term factor such as gender is also influential on voters, for example for much of the post war period; women were more likely to vote Conservative than men. However Labour then made significant gains among women in the 1990’s, but then the Conservatives overtook labour in 2010. This shows that the long term factor, gender, still plays a huge part in today’s elections.
Age also is influential among voters, with Labour outperforming the conservatives among young voters in the 1990s and Conservatives traditionally performing better among older voters. The region of which people are from is another long term factor that effects and has effected who people vote for. A north-south divide is evident, with more people in the south voting for Conservative and more people in the north voting Labour. It is still apparent that long term factors are important despite issues such as class dealignment and partisan dealignment, with factors such as age, gender and region still shaping voting behaviour.
In recent elections there has been an increase in floating voters, which are voters without a strong attachment to a political party and switch their vote from election to election. This has caused for parties to work harder for the vote of the public. There has also been an increase in rational choice, which is the focus on the choices made by individual voters. This includes issue voting, which is the idea that people vote for the party whose policies will benefit them the best.
Valence issues such as the economy and health are judged by voters on trust and competence, with results from the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections showing voters believe Labour are more likely to deliver a healthy economy and health system than Conservatives. This shows that electoral campaigns have become more important in presenting issues that the people want. Rational choice also includes economic voting, which is the model that claims that people will vote for the party that has delivered a healthy economy previously, for example Labour gained support in 2010 as the UK emerged from the recession.
Party leaders have also become more important in shaping electoral outcomes because of partisan dealignment and the personalisation of politics. Due to the introduction of TV debates in 2010, people have become more judgemental of party leaders. Tony Blair had high approval ratings in 1997, but Gordon Brown was unpopular in 2010. Despite this David Cameron did not enjoy high poll ratings that Tony Blair had when he was in opposition. The final variant of rational choice is governing competence which is the model that people vote for the party they think has overall performed best when been in power.
These issues have been recognised by parties with them spending ?40 million on campaigns in 2005 and so they have become increasingly important. The way in which parties exploit their electoral campaigns is through the media which is having an increasing impact on shaping voting behaviour. Newspapers now have a direct influence over the voting behaviour of their readers. Evidence suggests that, allowing for class and existing attitudes, readers of Labour-supporting newspapers are more likely to vote for labour than are readers of pro-Conservative newspapers.
The sun claimed to have influenced the outcome of the 1992 election and that in 1997, when it switched to support Labour. It also backed Conservative in 2010 and they won that election as well. There is also the view of reinforcement which suggests that newspapers just simple reinforce the views held by their readers but often rely on television rather than newspapers for non-partisan coverage of politics. Agenda setting also shapes voting behaviour as the press are unlikely to have a direct influence on voting but newspaper coverage does help shape the political agenda.
For example, coverage of immigration or crime helps to frame the way in which these issues are perceived by voters. Newspapers have become such a high influence on voters that in 2003, the communications act was brought in to limit ownership of newspapers to no more than a 20% share, which is 8% of households, to stop people like Rupert Murdoch (owner of The Sun, The Times and The News Of The World) having so much of an influence on voters. Television debates also played a huge part in shaping voting behaviour in 2010 as it gave the public an insight into the personalities of party leaders.
They were so influential as opinion polls showed that the Liberal Democrats support had a 3% increase after the 2010 television debates. However not all types of media shape voting behaviour. The internet has been described as ‘the dog that didn’t bark’ as it was expected to shape voting behaviour a lot when in fact it didn’t really deliver. Most of the people who used the internet to find out information ended up being passive as in 2005, 15% of the population looked for election information online but only 3% used it as a major source of information.
In conclusion, the statement ‘the election campaign is now more important than long term factors in shaping voting behaviour’ is true. Where traditionally long term factors such as social class, age, gender, region, and party identification were the most important in shaping voting behaviour this has changed. The long term factors effecting voting behaviour have declined due to class dealignment and partisan dealignment and an increase in floating voters and rational choice has seen electoral campaigns become more important.
The public no longer have an attachment to a political party or a class they belong to and so they generally vote on the party whose leader they like most or which party will benefit them the most. This has called for parties to increase the importance of electoral campaigns to gain votes. With the influence of the media, electoral campaigns have become more important than long term factors in shaping voting behaviour as it has become their primary way of winning general elections rather than relying on voters to stay loyal to them which they can no longer do.