The Impact of Class Identity on New Divides in Class Politics in Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Sociology


It used to be that people with strong working class identities held relatively left wing attitudes and voted strongly for the Labour Party. Now, voters who identify as working class are more likely to hold anti-immigrant attitudes and many voted for UKIP and Brexit. How and why this change has occurred, how much of it is due to a loss of faith in the Labour Party or its policies and how much is due to a rising perceived economic or cultural threat from immigration presents a fascinating puzzle in modern British politics and society - and in other countries such as the US and France where similar trends have occurred and led to a growth in right-wing populism. This project will examine how much these developments are based in objective social class and economic circumstances and how much they are due to the influence of class identities.
It has been claimed that class is declining as an influence on voting behaviour in Britain. However class identities remain strong even though social change has had significant impacts on our class system. There is now less match-up between objective social class as assigned by sociologists and individuals' self-reported class identity. Yet there is a lack of research exploring this divide, its consequences for voting behaviour in modern Britain and how it relates to the rising cultural divide between a relatively authoritarian white working class and a more liberal graduate middle class which has been particularly highlighted by the debate around Brexit. This project aims to change that by exploring the effects of subjective social class on voting behaviour, and how this relates to objective classifications of social class. Britain presents a particularly interesting case in which to analyse this due both to recent political developments and the excellent rich historical data available. I will use this to look at how these changing divides in class politics in Britain are shaped by the actions of political parties in the social and political cues they present and by major political events in recent years, with individual articles exploring how this divide has played out around the referenda on Scottish independence and EU membership. If the effects of subjective class are found to be notably different to objective class in these areas this would have significant consequences for opinion polling, our perceptions of how social class influences modern British politics and contribute to the debate on the importance of identity in politics.
In order to explore this new divide in class politics and the extent to which self-identified social class now plays a different role to objective class in its formation, this project will contain five related articles looking at different aspects of the new class politics divide and how it is shaped by the actions of political parties and by political events. Drawing together these articles will be three central research questions:
1. How is class voting changing with respect to objective and subjective class and strongly related variables such as education, income and employment sector?
2. How does subjective social class influence voting behaviour in the UK?
3. How does the influence of subjective social class on voting behaviour in the UK relate to the influence of social class as defined by occupation?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000649/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2095055 Studentship ES/P000649/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2021 Eilidh MacFarlane