Why has the association between class and party declined over time? Contrary to conventional wisdom that emphasizes the fracturing of social structures and blurring of class boundaries in post-industrial society, it is argued here that class divisions in party preferences are conditioned by the changing shape of the class structure and the effect of parties’ strategic ideological responses to this transformation on the choices facing voters. This thesis is tested using British survey data from 1959 to 2006. We demonstrate that increasing class heterogeneity does not account for the decline of the class–party association, which occurs primarily as a result of ideological convergence between the main parties resulting from New Labour's shift to the centre.
(Online publication July 14 2011)
* Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford (email: [email protected]). The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and, in particular, the Editor, Hugh Ward, for helpful comments and suggestions that have greatly improved the article.