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Consider the Extent to Which Short-Term Factors sample essay

There has been a significant decline since the post war consensus in the influence of social factors such as class and partisanship on voting behaviour. Class lines have become blurred from increased affluence, improved education and changes in the Labour market such as the formation of a ‘new working class’; resulting in the centralisation of the main political parties to become ‘catch-all’ parties, adapting their policies for short-term gain and effectively putting an end to the relevance of party ideology. This has led many people to the conclusion that short-term rational choice factors such as the state of the economy, qualities of the party leader and government competence are now far more important in shaping voting behaviour than long-term social factors such as class, ethnicity, age and gender.

The effects of partisan and class dealignment cannot be denied; in 1964, 43% of voters were ‘very strong’ in their support of their party, however by 2005 it had fallen to just 13%. As a result there is now an increased number of ‘floating voters’ who often have little knowledge of the actual ideologies or policies of the parties but instead make their decisions based on short-term factors such as how the party leaders perform in the TV debates. In the 2010 TV debates, 1 in 4 voters were said to have changed their minds after the first debate alone, supporting the idea that short-term factors are more important as this displays the significant influence of party leaders and the media on voting behaviour.

One of the most influential short-term factors of voting behaviour is the qualities of the party leader; however this is not always positive. For example, Tony Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war lost the Labour party a great deal of support; as is stated in the extract, ‘public dissatisfaction with Tony Blair could have cost the party up to 12 percentage points in the 2005 general election’. Other examples include the MP’s expenses scandal and Nick Clegg’s broken promise not to raise University tuition fees; events such as these display the potential of rational choice voting to win or lose an election for a particular party, supporting the statement that short-term factors are more important than long-term in shaping voting behaviour.

Another short-term factor that affects voting behaviour is the state of the economy, for example a decline in economic pessimism meant more votes for the Labour party in 2010. Furthermore, it is important not to forget the influence of the media on voting behaviour as it is through the media that voters get the vast majority of their information on political parties and so it is entirely possible that voting behaviour is affected by the way politics in portrayed in the news. For example evidence suggests that people who read pro-Labour newspapers are more likely to vote Labour and those who read pro-Conservative newspapers are more likely to vote Conservative.

However, there are still many long-term social factors that have a significant effect on voting behaviour today. Despite the decline in class voting, it is important to recognise that Labour remains the most popular amongst the working-class and Conservative remains most popular amongst the middle-class. As well as that the young do still typically vote Labour whereas older people are more likely to vote Conservative, women vote for Labour more than men and there is still a distinct North-South divide with the north generally voting Labour and the south voting Conservative.

Turnout is still highest amongst older people, the middle-class, the University educated and those who live in rural areas. Moreover, although there is usually some movement in opinion polls during election campaigns, this is mostly just ‘churning’ meaning that voters are switching back and forth instead of moving uniformly towards one single party, which suggests that short-term factors may appear to have a lot of influence on the surface but many voters have in fact made up their minds before the election campaigns even begin.

One of the most important things to examine when studying voting behaviour is the most recent general election in 2010, which offers evidence that both supports and refutes the statement that short-term factors are now far more important than long-term factors in shaping voting behaviour. Supporting the statement is the fact that management of the economy was ranked as the most important issue by voters and that poll evidence suggested that opinions of leaders were just as important as policies in shaping voting behaviour. Also, it was found that young people were most likely to vote for the Lib Dems, more than likely as a result of their promise not to raise University tuition fees. This is a prime example of how parties adapt their policies for short-term gain, and how this can cause problems later on when parties do not deliver on their promises.

However, all of the traditional social voting behaviours such as the working-class voting Labour and the middle-class voting Conservative were still present, proving that class and partisan alignment are not completely gone, and the popularity of Nick Clegg did not in fact bring a sizeable increase in votes for the Lib Dems, calling into question the importance of the party leader and the TV debates shaping voting behaviour.

In conclusion, there is evidence to support the significance of both the short-term and long-term factors, although the short-term factors are without doubt more important than the long-term primarily due to class and partisan dealignment. However, it cannot be said that short-term factors are far more important as despite the obvious dominance of short-term factors, the social norms of the long-term factors such as the North-South divide and the class divide always remain and continue to shape voting behaviour.

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