Tuesday Seminar – 4 May

Inequality and voting: How widening socio-economic gaps explain mainstream party decline 

David Weisstanner (University of Oxford)
Sarah Engler (University of Zurich)

 The political landscape of Western democracies has changed substantively over the past decades; mainstream parties have lost ground to radical left and radical right parties. Previous studies focusing on socio-structural transformations, such as occupational change or globalization, rely on distributional assumptions about winners and losers but do not directly test whether the cross-national and temporal variation in inequality explains this changing voting behaviour. We propose a theoretical framework that links rising income inequality with changing voting behaviour and discusses under which circumstances different groups affected by widening socio-economic gaps turn their backs on mainstream parties and vote for radical right or radical left parties instead. We test our claims in an empirical analysis of 18 Western democracies between 1987 and 2019 and indeed find rising income inequality to have different implications for radical left and radical right parties. While radical left parties draw their support primarily from the most deprived groups, we provide evidence that radical right parties attract support from voters with higher subjective social status who are perceiving a threat of social decline as income inequality increases. This study has important implications on the role of income inequality in understanding changing voting behaviour in advanced democracies. 

Contact Semih Çakır if you would like to participate in the seminar.

This content has been updated on 29 April 2021 at 17 h 13 min.