Issue politicization and social class: How the electoral supply activates class divides in political preferences

New article by Macarena Ares published at European Journal of Political Research

Against premature claims about the declining political relevance of social class in post-industrial democracies, recent research indicates that class continues to be a relevant determinant of political preferences. In post-industrial societies ‘old’ class divides on economic issues coexist with ‘new’ class alignments on cultural topics. While there is cumulated evidence of social classes’ distinct placement on these issues, this paper argues that the strength of class divides depends on the extent to which these issues are politicized by political parties. Studying preferences on economic and cultural issues (attitudes towards redistribution, immigration, gay rights and European integration), this study shows that class divides in preferences are context dependent. The multilevel analyses drawing on data from the European Social Survey and the Chapel Hill Expert Survey for 27 European democracies demonstrate that classes’ differences in preferences are accentuated on issues strongly contested and emphasized by parties, and mitigated on issues where party conflict is weaker. Adding to recent literature on parties and class conflict, this study identifies another stage at which parties can affect the strength of class voting. The varying strength of class divides across contexts also has implications for parties’ ability to garner support beyond a single class. This becomes increasingly unlikely in contexts of high issue politicization.