The importance of social class voting

Class war graffiti on a wall in London, 2017
Class war graffiti on a wall in London, 2017

Some political analysts argue social class remains the most important factor affecting voting behaviour in both Scotland and the UK. Over the years there has been a sustained and consistent pattern of class-based voting.

According to market research firm Ipsos MORI, voters in social classes D/E are more likely to vote Labour, eg in the 2017 general election 47% of D/E voters chose Labour. In Scotland, where the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats, the SNP replaced Labour for the first time as the most popular party amongst D/E voters.

Voters in social classes A/B are more likely to vote for the Conservatives with 47% of A/B voters choosing the Conservatives in the 2017 general election. (Source: Ipsos MORI.)

One reason to explain the close link between social class and voting behaviour is the historic differences in party policies. The Conservatives have a tradition of favouring low taxes and reduced welfare support. These types of policies appeal to wealthier people in social classes A/B who are less reliant on the state.

Labour, and in recent elections the SNP in Scotland, favour policies that redistribute wealth or provide greater support. For example, higher taxes on wealthier people and higher spending on the welfare state. These policies appeal to less well-off voters in social classes D/E.

With new employment patterns and changing attitudes within society, evidence suggests voters are less likely to vote according to their class than in the past. The term given to the movement away from class-based voting is dealignment.

Political analysts would argue that the factors affecting voting behaviour are inter-linked. An example of this would be how social class is linked to other long-term factors, eg geography, age or gender. However, evidence suggests that around 40% of the electorate continue to vote according to their social class which means social class remains one of the most important factors affecting voting behaviour.