The UK is a representative democracy. This means people vote to elect someone to make decisions on their behalf, representing their desires and needs, in the UK these people are MPs. If the voters don’t feel they are represented well then they can be voted out at the next election. In this way the public can participate, through direct support and votes for a political party.
However, this form of political participation has decreased over the years. In 2001 only 59.3% of the population voted a massive decline from the 89% of the population who voted in 1950. There are many different reasons for this decline in voting:
Class decomposition – Since the 1970s there has been a large increase in the percentage of white-collar jobs. This has created a larger middle class, as those who used to be working-class now feel like their job means they are now middle class. Because of this there has been class decomposition. This effects voting behaviour because people used to vote based upon their class, however now there is much less partisan alignment.
This increase in the class structure of Britain also means that parents are less likely to socialise their child into voting a certain way. In the past a working-class parent would make sure their child voted labour, however now this is much less likely to happen, so people don’t have such a strong allegiance to a party so might not bother to vote.
This class decomposition also affected the political parties. With an increase in size of the middle class Labour started losing a lot of voters. So, under Tony Blair, New Labour moved away from being left-wing to the centre ground. This means that the political parties are much ideologically closer. This means that some voters might not feel there is any point voting because the parties are so similar so it doesn’t matter who is in power.
So who does vote and who for?
Class – Traditional the working class would vote for the Labour Party, a socialist party, who represent the views of their views and ideologies. Conversely the middle-class and upper-class would vote for the Conservatives. Whilst, through the work of sociologists such as Sarvlick and Crewe, we know that this class alignment to a party has decreased, it clearly still exists. For example, to generalise the poorer northern parts of the country are Labour strongholds whilst the richer south are Conservative strongholds. This shows that class still effects voting behaviour.
Gender – Typical women are more likely to vote Conservative than men. This is because they feel the Tories have traditionally placed huge importance on the family, something housewives agree with. However, as the position of women has changed, this might not be as important to them anymore; so this alignment has decreased.
Age – In general there is a tendency for younger people to vote Labour and older people to vote Conservative. This is probably because younger people are much more comfortable with the idea of change, whereas older people want the status quo kept as it is.
Younger people are less likely to vote overall. In the 2001 election only 39% of the 18-24 age group voted, well below the national average.
Ethnicity – In the 2001 elections 80% of ethnic minority voters supported Labour, a statistic which follows the pattern of previous elections. One explanation for this is that many ethnic minorities, in particular African-Caribbeans and Southern-Asians are often working-class, and as we know this tends to lead to support for the Labour Party. Another explanation is that the Labour are often seen as more sympathetic towards ethnic minorities, for example they support more relaxed immigration policies compared to the conservatives. This means that ethnic minorities are more likely to agree with Labour’s policies, and therefore vote for them.