What we are reading: Class Voting in a Tripolar Space

The reading class exercise goes on. Inevitably, the class on the consequences of the Radical Right’s rise kicks off with some recent work on the underlying causes.

What is the link between social class and radical right voting in Western Europe?

The idea that the radical right forms a new party family, whose rise is the result of changes in the class structure of European societies has been around for a while. Kitschelt, Betz, and Kriesi were amongst the earliest proponents, and Kitschelt/Rehm (2014) develop some interesting ideas about the mechanisms behind these alignments. Oesch and Rennwald have been working in this field for a long time, too.

This article, which was published in EJPR three years ago, is almost an instant classic. Having said that, I have previously found the article a bit busy (by now, I’m conditioned to only digest bite-sized pieces that do one single thing in 6,000 words or less). And, my personal bug-bear, the text uses “poles” and “party families” as exchangeable, but on closer inspection, their poles encompass several party families.

  • Oesch, D., & Rennwald, L. (2018). Electoral competition in Europe’s new tripolar political space: class voting for the left, centre-right and radical right. European Journal of Political Research, 57(), 783–807. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12259

What we liked

Students said that the statistical analyses were quite focused and presented in an accessible way, i.e. with tables and graphs that convey the meaning of what is being done. They pointed out that the paradox of service and production workers that vote against their own economic interests really comes to the fore in these analyses. So does the lack of left-wing authoritarian parties in most contemporary European societies. One student made the connection with the gender gap in radical right voting: if the distribution of jobs in European societies is heavily gendered (compare e.g. education and medicine/nursing on the one hand and production/construction on the other) and if the logic of workplace relations has an impact on one’s politics, it makes perfect sense that the radical right disproportionately attracts male voters.

factory, industry, abandoned
Photo by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

What we did not like so much

Students agreed that “poles” are not really party families. More specifically, they argued that one should differentiate between Old Left/New Left parties. Taking on board some ideas from my other MA course, they argued that contextual/institutional factors (e.g. type of welfare state) should be taken into account. They wondered about what goes into the “cultural” dimension of party competition (don’t we all) and were a bit baffled by some of the comparisons in the last part of the text, which read like comparisons over time but are actually comparisons between groups of countries.

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