While is not to say that there are

While it is true
that voters tend to vote for what they perceive to be in their best economic interest,
and they generally won’t vote against this interest, that is not to say that
there are other determinants which, combined, may have more influence overall.
Long-term primacy factors and political socialisation (determining where a
voter lies on the left-right spectrum); The context of the election (with issue
voting on salient issues); as well as recency factors such as the performance
of the governing party or the perception of individual political candidates,
all influenced by media bias (affecting the rationality of voters), combined are
an equal, if not more powerful force determining voters’ preferences than
economic interests.

 

It could be argued
that economic interests are the main determinants of voters’ preferences. This
follows the rational self-interested voter model. Essentially, voters will vote
in accordance to what they perceive to be in their economic interest, as no
rational, reasonable voter will vote in a manner which would be to the
detriment of their own financial situation. A voters’ inherent desire to protect
their own self-interest would trump any other factors which may influence their
voting decisions, whether they be ideological, moral, or other. Wealthy
individuals are likely to support policies which protect the interest of the
rich, and they will thus vote for parties or candidates that uphold such
policies (for example, the Conservatives in the UK). To contrast, less wealthy
individuals, upon assessment of their own economic situation, are likely to
vote for a party which supports welfare spending and public services. This is
corroborated by Margalit, who points out from her study of the 2008 financial
crash that ‘the personal experience of economic hardship, particularly the loss
of a job, had a major effect on increasing a voters’ support for welfare
spending.'(Margalit, 2013: 80) She also notes that this increase in support for
welfare spending dissipated once the voters’ employment situation improved,
highlighting that their preferences came from a ‘rational calculation of one’s
economic status'(Margalit, 2013: 80) rather than being an ideological
conviction. Powdthavee strengthens this argument, coming to the conclusion that
the wealthier voters are, the more right wing they are, voting to preserve
their own wealth to as large an extent as possible. By comparing voters before
and after winning the lottery, they conclude that ‘winners tend
to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less
egalitarian. The larger the win, the more people tilt to the right.’ (Powdthavee,
2014: 1) Thus, Powdthavee concludes
that voting is ‘driven… by human self-interest. Money apparently makes people
more right-wing.’ The trend is apparent in voting patterns in the UK. At the
2015 general election, according to the National Readership Survey, 45% of A-B
Class (high income professional/managerial middle class) voted Conservative,
compared to only 27% of D-E Class (lower income, unskilled working class).
Meanwhile, 41% of D-E Class voted Labour compared to only 25% of A-B Class
(Ipsos MORI, 2015). This emphasises the extent to which economic status aligns
with voting decisions, and highlights that economic interest are a dominant
factor in determining voters’ preferences.

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However, this
isn’t always the case. While it’s true that voters don’t stray too far from
their economic self-interest, there are other factors which may be more
influential in determining voters’ preferences. Krauss wrote in reference to
the 2008 US election that ‘A
significant fraction of evangelical voters appear more likely to ignore the
candidates’ specific economic…platforms in favour of concerns about gay
marriage or abortion.’ (Krauss, 2008) He makes
three essential points here. Firstly, that a portion of the electorate vote on
personal, emotive, religious lines. Secondly, that single-issue voting (in this
case gay marriage and abortion) is extremely important in determining voting
preferences, especially when the context of the election itself revolves around
that issue. And finally, that a voters’ perception of a candidates’ image or
views held is a decisive factor in the way voters vote. While Krauss’s specific
observation of the 2008 election cannot be applied universally, it can
nonetheless be helpful in explaining why economic interests are not always the
main determinant of voters’ preferences.

 

Firstly, long-term primacy factors and social
cleavages influence where a voter lies on the left-right political spectrum,
making them a powerful determinant of voters’ preferences. Nationality, age, and
in the case of Krauss and the 2008 elections, religion, all serve to influence
voters preferences. Rather than voting purely by economic interests, voters
tend to vote in accordance with their perceived identity. While the UK will be
used as a case study, the same trends can be applied to countries elsewhere. In
terms of nationality, ever since the 2014 Scottish referendum, the SNP have
dominated Scottish constituencies, with 50% of the Scottish national vote and 56
of the 59 seats. The Conservatives, associated with its Englishness, only
captured a single constituency (Electoral Commission, 2015). Clearly, the vote
of the Scottish voters were aligned with their nationality, not their
respective economic interests. In Northern Ireland too, the sectarian divide has
meant that the entire political system itself has rested on a factional split
between the Unionists and Nationalists, as opposed to any financial disposition.
Similar trends are visible in other countries, for example Spain, where the
Catalonians are vying for independence. Another long-term primacy factor is age.
While younger voters are more likely to sit on the left of the spectrum and
vote Labour, older voters tend to be right wing and vote Conservative. While
this can in part be due to the elderly wanting to protect their financial
assets, it is also due to older pensioners being more wedded to traditional
value and attitudes, in contrast to younger, more liberal voters. Religion has
also long played a vital role in determining voters’ preferences, and in some cases
transgresses voters’ economic interests. Religion is very important in US
elections, and many European parties are often formed around religious denominations
e.g. in Belgium and Germany. The more religiously observant tend to vote
conservatively, assuming that this will preserve their traditional values. Overall,
religious issues tend to divert voters from the mainstream economically-based voting
patterns. In 2005 for example, constituencies with a
large proportion of Muslims voted differently. Galloway’s anti-Iraq war
‘Respect’ party picked up 12% of votes here, compared with other constituencies
where Respect stood and got 1%. (Rallings, 2005: 4). Whereas
Jewish voters in the UK had a history of voting Labour out of economic
interest, the 2015 election showed a different determinant of Jewish voters’
preferences. In the run up, Labour created a Bill recognising the State of
Palestine, whereas the Conservatives showed unbending support
for Israel. In the Finchley constituency, even a Jewish Labour candidate, Sarah
Sackman, couldn’t overcome the Jews’ growing distrust of Labour. As is clear
from the previous two examples, religion can be a strong determinant of voters’
preferences, in transgression of economic interests. Overall, then, it is apt
to argue that social cleavages and long-term primacy factors serve as a
defining factor in determining voters’ preferences.

 

Issue
voting regarding the context of elections are another major determinant of
voters’ preferences. Importantly, it is issue voting that most often supersedes
voting in accordance with economic interests, meaning it is a more significant
determinant of voters’ preferences. The issue voting model dictates that voters
vote on the most pressing, salient issues of the day, rather than just voting
out of pure economic calculation. While the salient issue might indeed be the
state of the economy, it often varies from election to election. In the UK in
2005 for example, it was the 2003 invasion of Iraq that was most salient. The
popular sentiment against Blair undermined Labour support. In Muslim areas,
their vote share fell by over 5% (Rallings, 2005). Clearly, issue voting on
salient matters played a more important factor in determining voters’
preferences than their economic interest, which would have indicated voting for
Labour rather than against it. As Schofield contends, throughout the history of
US elections the same trends of issue voting are palpable. He states ‘The sequence of presidential elections between 1964
and 1972 has features of a political transformation, where the race or civil
rights issue played a fundamental role. Democrats had held the presidency since
1932… parties increasingly differentiated themselves on the basis of a civil
rights dimension, rather than the economic dimension of politics.’ (Schofield,
2003: 218) Not only is issue voting on salient issues the main determinant on
non-economic matters, but in some cases it takes precedence where economic
matters are involved. In the 2015 general election the UK Independence Party
won almost 4 million votes (Ipsos MORI, 2015), with the majority of them
working class voters switching from their long-held allegiance to Labour. This
fundamentally transgressed these voters’ economic interest– only Labour held
the title of representing the working classes. Here, the single salient issue
of discontent with the EU superseded voters’ rational economic interest which
would have inclined them to vote Labour. According to Dalton, salient issues
‘such as environmentalism, gender equality, and multiculturalism… have entered
the contemporary political agenda’ (Dalton, 2010: 106), and are starting to
play an even more determinant role in voters’ preferences than ever before.

 

Finally,
recency factors which are nether ideologically nor economically based are
another main determinant of voters’ preferences, and often have a very strong
effect on countering the economically self-interested vote. The image of the
party leader, their perception in the public eye, and their short-term
performance are hugely influential on a misinformed electorate, and should not
be underestimated. These recency factors, coupled with a constant bombardment
of media bias, make it easier for voters to make a decision. In terms of the
image of the party leader, there is a strong link between perceptions of who
will make the best leader, and voting intentions. In 2010 an
Ipsos Mori study found for the first time the leaders of the party to be just
as important as the party’s policies in affecting voting behaviour (Ipsos MORI,
2010). In the 2015 UK General Election, Miliband was portrayed in the press as
weak and incompetent, especially in response to the rise of the SNP, and this
stuck in the voters’ minds. As such, the election was a failure for Labour, and
the Conservative Party captured a majority of seats in Parliament. Kaplan’s
study of ‘the Fox News Effect’ further emphasises how media bias and the
perception of parties or leaders affect voters’ rationality, and shows that
they don’t always vote according to economic interest. While the rational voter
model dictates that voters will filter out bias in reporting, the study proves
that voters’ are non-rational and subject to persuasion: ‘Republicans
gained 0.4 to 0.7% vote share in tows where the Republican supporting Fox News
was broadcast… Fox news convinced 3-28% of its viewers to vote Republican.’ (Kaplan,
2006: 1). Kaplan concludes that Fox News had a ‘sizeable impact’ (Kaplan, 2006:
3) on the vote share for Republicans. Another recency factor is the performance
of the governing party. It is often said that “Oppositions
don’t win elections…governments lose them”. Over the years of tenure of an
incumbent government, voters develop a general impression of the governing
party. This influences their vote at the ballot box, as rather than voting
according to their economic interest, voters vote based on the track record of
the government, and how well they have done. In 1997, Despite a growing
economy, voters still associated the Major government with the ERM fiasco of
‘Black Wednesday’, when the government’s economic policy collapsed. Voters elected
Blair instead. The Conservatives entered
the 2015 election having presided over economic growth and the creation of 2.2
million jobs. This proved difficult for Labour to argue against.

 

In conclusion, while it is true that economic
interests are a significant determinant of voters’ preferences, it is also
fitting to say that other factors combined, such as issue voting, political
socialisation and identity, and recency factors, are a stronger determinant
than economic interests, and in some cases contradict voting in accordance with
economic interest. It should be noted, however, that the extent to which
economic interest or other factors influence voters’ preferences is also
dependant on time period. Whereas in the mid 20th century there existed strong
identities with class and class based voting, and as such economic interest
were the main determinant, there is now relative partisan de-alignment, with
other issues coming to the fore such as environmentalism and feminism.
Moreover, the introduction of television and social media over time has played
a major role in shifting the determinants of voters’ preferences to more recency
factors.