Social identities and political cleavages: the role of political context

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Using a novel method, the paper investigates the influence of social group identities on attitudes and on voting in a variety of political contexts. Examining the major regions of Britain, Canada and the USA, we find considerable national and regional diversity in the nature of social cleavages. For example, social class and race had widely different effects across societies, but within societies their effects on attitudes and on voting were very similar. However, despite that, age and religion had a similar effect on attitudes across societies; the effects on voting varied considerably. The significant within-country differences underline the importance of using region, rather than country, as the unit of analysis. More importantly, these results highlight the role of political context, especially competing cleavages and the structure of party competition, in the establishment of politically relevant social cleavages.

Keywords: Comparative methods; Political sociology; Social and political attitudes; Social cleavages; Voting behaviour

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, University of Oxford, UK, and Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, Oxford, UK 2: University of Oxford and Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, Oxford, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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