World Politics

Review Articles

Elections and the Democratic Class Struggle

Robert W. Jackman*

Walter Korpi, The Democratic Class Struggle. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, 277 pp.

Arend Lijphart, Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, 229 pp.


It is commonly believed that elections in the industrial democracies reflect a democratic class struggle, according to which lower-income voters support parties of the Left while higher-income voters protect their interest by voting for parties of the Right. This interpretation hinges critically on a series of implicit assumptions. First, the class-struggle thesis assumes that most industrial democracies have majoritarian political institutions. Second, it assumes that the typical form of political competition follows the responsible-parties model, which implies, among other things, that parties are fundamentally programmatic, adopting distinctive positions along a left-right continuum. When these assumptions are evaluated in light of the available evidence on the nature of party systems, political competition, and voting behavior, they are judged to be largely implausible. Thus, the democratic-class-struggle thesis constitutes a seriously flawed interpretation of elections.

* I would like to thank Kenneth Bollen, Mary Jackman, Joseph Schlesinger, and Brian Silver for their comments and advice.