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The determinants of working-class conservatism : a cross-national comparison Bakvis, Herman

Abstract

The study focusses on the phenomenon of 'working-class conservatism', support for right-wing or centre parties on the part of certain segments of the working-class. This mode of voting behaviour is analysed in three West European countries; Great Britain, West Germany and Italy. In the introduction a number of explanations are examined which could conceivably account for the phenomenon. It is suggested that explanations centred around the notion of 'embourgeoisement' of the working-class (the process whereby 'affluent' workers come to identify with the middle-class thus voting 'conservative') contain certain weaknesses. It is argued that immediate subcultural influences such as the family, the church and the work-place are still most important in explaining the working-class vote for 'conservative' parties. An explanatory model is developed which emphasizes the influence of a worker's social environment as the chief determinant of his voting behaviour. Hypotheses derived from this model, as well as alternative hypotheses related to the 'embourgeoisement' argument are tested through secondary analysis of survey data collected in the late 1950's and early 1960's. The results of the study suggest that in all three countries 'working-class conservatism' can be explained largely in terms of the subcultural influences outlined in the model. Level of income attained by workers may have some independent effect in West Germany and Great Britain. In these two countries conservative parties are somewhat more successful in retaining the loyalties of conservative workers in the low and high income categories compared to those in the medium categories. However this does not mean a confirmation of the 'embourgeoisement1 argument. Most 'affluent conservative workers', it is argued, arrived at their conservative voting identity via early parental socialization. There are few defectors from left-wing parties to conservative parties among 'left' workers who attain a high level of income.

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