Class dealignment

Stewart Lansley, Economist and author of ‘The Cost of Inequality: Why Economic Equality is Essential for Recovery’

Class dealignment the process where individuals no longer identify themselves as belonging to a certain class and - in political terms - fail to make a class connection with their voting choice.

Class dealignment is the weakening of the relationship between social class and party support. Social class may nevertheless remain a significant factor influencing electoral choice. Class dealignment is reflected in a declining proportion of working-class voters supporting Labour, and a fall in the proportion of middle- class voters supporting the Conservatives. Among the consequences of class dealignment has been a shift in the policies and ideas of the major two parties (especially Labour) as they have been forced to seek votes from ‘natural’ supporters of other parties. Suggested explanations for class dealignment include the following:

• Changing class system. The manual work force has shrunk (from 58 per cent in 1961 to 29 per cent in 2013), and the ‘traditional’ working class has given way to the ‘new’ working class.

• Cross-class locations. Social class has become less clear-cut, through, for instance, the decline in trade union membership and the rise in home ownership.

• Embourgeoisement. Growing affluence has encouraged some working-class voters to think of themselves as being middle-class. Affluent workers are less ‘solidaristic’ and may be more concerned about material self-interest.

• Sectoral cleavages. Voters have been increasingly affected by whether they work in the public sector or the private sector. These cleavages cut across class differences.

A diminishing proportion of the population consider themselves a member of a specific class. Class is less important in society than it used to be. The parties have tended to move towards the centre of the political spectrum which means they appeal to people across the class boundaries.

■ Other factors than class have become important. Increasingly, voters have become unpredictable in their voting and are more influenced by the image of the parties than which class they seem to favour