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On Class (and models of voting behaviour)

Last week I was teaching 3 groups of 12-14 people each, on the week’s topic which was Models of Voting Behaviour. I wanted them to reflect on the models that were discussed in the lecture and provide examples from British and international contexts. I also wanted to encourage them to reflect on their own voting preferences in relation to the models discussed.

I asked them to tell me whether they thought class was important in determining voting behaviour and in doing so to explain what they thought class is and whether the concept has changed over time.

The responses were very interesting, especially those that discussed the models in relation to their own voting preferences. Mind you that I am lucky enough to teach 3 groups of very smart first-year politics students. Most of undergrads here (Warwick) do read a substantial part of their assigned readings and try to engage with the material, which is something which wasn’t always the case when I did my undergraduate.

Most of them used the class classification mostly based on income. Other factors like social status, education or employment did not feature prominently in their description of class. It was interesting that some of them mentioned that they came from working class backgrounds and that they were the first members of their families to pursue a university degree. They expect to do better than their parents affirming in this way their belief that there is a strong chance of upward class mobility.

They were reluctant to depart from orthodox understandings of class and most of them described themselves as belonging to the middle class (voluntarily of course, I didn’t ask). During the discussion it was obvious that they realised that the older white/blue collar dichotomy was no longer enough to mark the class boundaries but they were reluctant to identify themselves as working class, even if some of them mentioned that they would fit the (unfortunately mainstream) category of the indebted unemployed graduate (or underpaid indebted graduate) who has to struggle to make ends meet.

Why this post? I just found it interesting that their definition of class was narrowly focused on income and that they believed that we live in a post-class era. Moreover, those who stressed their parents’ working class background, even though they seemed to believe that they are in a better situation than their parents, also tended to argue that they would most likely continue voting for labour even in the case that they move up the socioeconomic ladder.

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