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The transformation of the socio-economic left-right cleavage? Voting behand changing attitudes towards economy and social policies (1990-2015).

The aim of this project is to investigate whether and how contemporary societal processes induced by globalization are transforming Western European political spaces. Concretely, we focus on the re-articulation of the socio-economic left-right cleavage, and its consequences for attitude patterns and voting behaviour in European electorates. Theoretical background: Liquid modernity - Contemporary society is characterized by a de-closure and de-structuring of the social contract, the cultural compromise and the political cleavages of organized modernity (Wagner, 1994; Wimmer, 2002; Bartolini, 2005; Ferrera, 2005; Abts, 2012). During the apex of bounded structuring, the tri-partite of trade unions, employers and government agreed on a social pact to pursue economic growth and generalized welfare (Castel, 2003). The national growth state was a class compromise balancing the individualism and inequality of market capitalism with the universalism and collective interests of emancipatory democracy (Boix, 2003), and at the same time created strong political bonds between lower classes and mass parties representing their interests and grievances (Ferrera, 2005). However, since the end of the 1970s all West European welfare states are confronted with massive challenges de-bounding and de-structuring the social-economic, cultural and political equilibriums of organized modernity. (1) The enduring crisis of organized capitalism and the resulting financial constraints have initiated a reform of welfare state provisions from a passive, security and redistribution-centred approach to an active, individualized and opportunity-centred welfare shifting the responsibility more and more from state to individual (Lash & Urry, 1987; Rosanvallon, 2000; Taylor-Gooby, 2011). (2) Increased migration flows challenge the cultural compromise which limits the social contract to national citizens. The community of solidarity is opened up, extending the collective benefits beyond the boundaries of the national group (Wimmer, 2002). (3) The shift towards a secularized and individualized society has weakened the integration capacity of imperative traditional and collective identities (like social class or religious denomination) that provided the basis for organized and pillarized party democracy (Bartolini & Mair, 1990; Manin, 1997). In essence, the frozen political cleavages dominating domestic politics since WWII left-right; church-state; and centre/periphery are becoming less salient or fundamentally transformed. In general, we observe the transformation of organized modernity into liquid modernity as a consequence of the de-bounding of the external boundaries of the national state and the internal de-structuring of the frozen cleavages. The internal order of the pre-existing bounded space of the nation state is subject to increasing challenges and is gradually destabilized by the interference of external and competing authority structures (globalization and European integration) as well as by the transition from collective identity to individual subject (individualization). Consequently, significant resources are withdrawn from old institutions, while new conflicts emerge. Substantial parts of the electorate especially among the working class voting for Christian-democratic and social-democratic parties- experience these transformations as an unfair violation of the unwritten social contract by their previous political patrons (Swyngedouw, 2000). The loosening up of the bonds between lower classes and mass parties has far-reaching consequences for party systems: this voter-party dealignment of traditional partisan groups - e.g. youngsters and lower educated, unskilled workers - results frequently in fragmented multipartyism. Transformation of left-right divides - In their pioneering study Kriesi et al. (2008) argue that globalization affects the scope and the content of political conflicts by creating a new structural conflict between winners and losers. Concretely, their study describes that the existing dimension(s) of cultural conflict are re-articulated and re-organized in terms of a new integration-demarcation cleavage (Kriesi et. al, 2006; 2012), opposing authoritarian particularism to libertarian universalism. Especially populist radical right and green parties have successfully mobilized this new cultural dimension of the existing left-right divide, while the electoral fortune of mainstream social-democratic, Christian-democratic and liberal-conservative parties can only be weakly explained by this transformed cleavage (Swyngedouw, 1994; Bornschier, 2010; Abts, 2012). The electoral (mis)fortune of the traditional parties seems to be explained much more by economic and welfare issues (Delezal & Hutter, 2012). Yet, current understanding of the role of the transformed socio-economic left-right divide in times of liquid modernity remains limited. Political sociology continues focusing mainly on the emergence and the effects of the new cultural cleavage, while the fundamental question of attitudinal change towards welfare state and socio-economic policies as well as its effects on the electoral (mis)fortunes of established and challenging political parties is neglected (see exceptions on welfare state: Svallfors, 2007; 2012; van Oorschot & Meuleman, 2012). Implicitly, most studies assume that the post WWII social contract is not fundamentally transformed and questioned, or at least does not have significant electoral consequences. We believe that this assumption is untenable. Globalization, European integration and individualization have undermined the established principles linked to the bounded structuring of the national growth state. In particular, the contemporary era marked by growing inequality (OECD, 2008) combined with the 2008 financial crisis could be conceived as a new critical juncture bringing the neoliberal consensus on elite level more profoundly up for discussion, while the welfare state reforms in a context of growing social inequality could result in another new structural conflict. This context leads to a re-articulation ofthe state interventionism versus neoliberalism cleavage in terms of demarcation versus integration, whereby the position of universalist and inclusive egalitarianism is opposed to a particularistic and exclusionist egalitarianism (Derks, 2004; van der Waal et al. 2010; Meuleman & Wets 2011). The focal point of the public discussion shifts towards social citizenship, i.e. the scope and boundaries of social solidarity as well as the criteria of deservingness (control, need, reciprocity and identity) (van Oorschot, 2000; Mau, 2003). Political mobilization of emerging conflicts The re-organization of the socio-economic left-right divide in terms of integration vs. demarcation is strengthened by two profound changes in the social structure of advanced post-industrial societies: (1) a shrinking low skilled working class and a growing overlap between old working class and ethnic minorities (ethno-stratification); and (2) an increasing diversification of the growing middle class in different class fractions based on their sector of employment and factor endowments (declining petit bourgeoisie; new middle class of social-cultural professionals; a rising new economic class of managers). These transformations of social structure in hard times of economic crisis create new groups of winners and losers who constitute new latent political potentials ready for the articulation of their conflicting (collective) socio-economic interests by political parties. Especially, ethnic minority working class members are expected to develop more radical and universal views on redistributive policies and welfare provisions than the so-called native working class (Phalet et al. 2005). Parties position themselves in the restructured two-dimensional space spanned by the transformed economic and cultural dimension. In electoral terms, we argue that political parties who mobilize the losers of modernization are not doing it only in cultural and political terms, but also in economic terms. Until now, however, attitudes towards socio-economic issues and social policies are not incorporated explicitly in explanations of changing electoral outcomes. This neglect is unfortunate, since electoral outcomes and recent reforms of welfare state provisions are not only constrained by socio-economic and institutional factors, but are also affected by citizens welfare attitudes in which policy makers operate (Brooks & Manza, 2006). Research objectives - Building further on the seminal work of Kriesi et al. (2006; 2008; 2012), our study will examine the impact of the crisis of organized capitalism and the recent breakdown in the neoliberal consensus resulting from the global fiscal crisis on socio-economic attitudes as well as the impact of these social policy preferences on voting behaviour. We intend to focus predominantly on the changes at the demand side (voters), while Kriesi et al. are investigating mainly the transformation of the supply side (parties) in Western Europe. Our project compares in a longitudinaltrend study electoral spaces and conflict structures for the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, but with particular focus on Belgium as an unique and strategic research site. Belgium has one national social welfare system, while it is characterized by two rather independent party systems (De Winter, Swyngedouw & Dumont, 2006) with a different composition. This trend study will be supplemented with an international comparative study of Western European countries (including countries from the south and north of Europe, excluding Eastern European countries). We distinguish five main research objectives. (1) The first objective is to develop further an analytical theory of the transformation of political space and its restructured cultural and economic dimensions, relating it to the theories of the crisis of organized modernity and new cleavage theory. (2) The second objective is to investigate across time (1990-2015) the relationship between new cultural attitudes and new attitudes towards economy and social policies in different sociological strata of the Belgian electorate. In fact, we try to trace the changes in cleavage structure and in so-called cleavage coalitions within the electorate defined by their position in the re-structured two-dimensional space and its identifiable social basis. Special attention will be given to the effect of the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath. (3) As political cleavages are not merely reflections of social divisions (demand side), but have always be organized and articulated by political parties (supply side), the third research objective is to investigate the stability and changes in policy views of parties on taxes, state intervention, welfare state and income redistribution by means of collected media data and the party manifesto data in the period 1990-2015 across selected European countries. (4) The fourth objective is to link these results (supply side) to attitudes towards income inequality and welfare state (demand side) within an international trend perspective in different welfare state regimes. (5) The fifth objective is particularly focused on the socio-economic attitudes of the low skilled working class comparing the native working class with the new working class of ethnic minorities in regard to socio-economic attitudes. In essence, we expect that given the assumption that differential changes in attitudes towards the scope, boundaries and criteria of social solidarity as well as state intervention have an effect on cleavage positions and could be mobilized politically this study can help to explain the persistent position on a high level of the social-democratic party in Wallonia as well as the significant and deeply rooted changes in Flemish party system during last two decades, i.e. the structural decline of the social-democratic, Christian-democratic and liberal parties, the rise and fall of the extreme right and the recent breakthrough of the conservative neoliberal Flemish nationalist party. Data and methodology - The longitudinal hypotheses will be tested using the existing Belgian federal election surveys based on random samples out of the national register (1991-1995-1999-2003-2007-2010). We will collect a new random sample survey for Belgium related to the upcoming federal elections of 2014. To investigate the ethno-stratification hypothesis we will supplement an additional booster sample of low skilled natives and ethnic minority voters to the 2014 survey. For the comparative study, we hope to use the integrated national data bases on electoral behaviour from the COST action The True European Voter. To study the party supply side we will use the data of the Comparative Agenda Project and of the Manifesto Project WZB. Advanced statistical methodology will be used to analyse the distinguished research questions, such as Multidimensional Scaling, Latent Class Analysis, (Multi group) Structural Equation Modelling and Multinomial Logistic regression. Key References Castel, R. (2003). From manual workers to wage laborers: Transformation of the social question. London: Transaction Publishers. Ferrera, M. (2005). The boundaries of welfare: European integration and the new spatial politics of social solidarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Dolezal, M., Helbing, M., Höglinger, D., Hutter, S., Wüest, B. (2012), Political Conflict in Western Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Rosanvallon, P. (2000). The new social question: Rethinking the welfare state. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Date:1 Oct 2013  →  30 Sep 2017
Keywords:Socio-economic left-right cleavage, Welfare state, Transformation of cleavages, Political Sociology, Ethno-stratification, Political participation, Belgian National Election Study 2014, Voting behaviour
Disciplines:Other economics and business, Citizenship, immigration and political inequality, International and compartive politics, Multilevel governance, National politics, Political behaviour, Political organisations and institutions, Political theory and methodology, Public administration, Other political science, Applied sociology, Policy and administration, Social psychology, Social stratification, Social theory and sociological methods, Sociology of life course, family and health, Other sociology and anthropology, Psychological methods, Mathematical and quantitative methods, General pedagogical and educational sciences