Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.
Voting Choice and Rational Choice
Conal Duddy and Ashley Piggins
Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility” theorem is rightly considered to be a landmark result in economic theory. It is a far-reaching result with implications not just for economics but for political science, philosophy, and many other fields. It has inspired an enormous literature, “social choice theory,” which lies on the interface of economics, politics, and philosophy. Arrow first proved the impossibility theorem in his doctoral dissertation—Social Choice and Individual Values—published in 1951. It is a remarkable result, and had Arrow not proved it, it is unlikely that the theorem would be known today. A social choice is simply a choice made by, or on behalf of, a group of people. Arrow’s theorem is concerned more specifically with the following problem. Suppose that we have a given set of options to choose from and that each member of a group of individuals has his or her own preference over these options. By what method should we construct a single ranking of the options for the group as a whole? Any such method may be represented mathematically by a “social welfare function.” This is a function that receives as its input the preference ordering of each individual and then generates as its output a social preference ordering. Arrow defined some properties that would seem to be essential to any reasonable social welfare function. These properties are called “unrestricted domain,” “weak Pareto,” “independence of irrelevant alternatives,” and “non-dictatorship.” Each of these properties, when taken alone, does appear to be very necessary indeed. Yet, Arrow proved that these properties are in fact mutually incompatible. This troubling fact has been central to the study of social choice ever since.
The Realignment of Class Politics and Class Voting
Geoffrey Evans and Peter Egge Langsæther
Since the early days of the study of political behavior, class politics has been a key component. Initially researchers focused on simple manual versus nonmanual occupations and left versus right parties, and found consistent evidence of a strong effect of class on support for left-wing parties. This finding was assumed to be simply a matter of the redistributive preferences of the poor, an expression of the “democratic class struggle.” However, as the world became more complex, many established democracies developed more nuanced class structures and multidimensional party systems. How has this affected class politics? From the simple, but not deterministic pattern of left-voting workers, the early 21st century witnessed substantial realignment processes. Many remain faithful to social democratic (and to a lesser extent radical left) parties, but plenty of workers support radical right parties or have left the electoral arena entirely. To account for these changes, political scientists and sociologists have identified two mechanisms through which class voting occurs. The most frequently studied mechanism behind class voting is that classes have different attitudes, values, and ideologies, and political parties supply policies that appeal to different classes’ preferences. These ideologies are related not only to redistribution but also to newer issues such as immigration, which appear to some degree to have replaced competition over class-related inequality and the redistribution of wealth as the primary axis of class politics. A secondary mechanism is that members of different classes hold different social identities, and parties can connect to these identities by making symbolic class appeals or by descriptively representing a class. It follows that class realignment can occur either because the classes have changed their ideologies or identities, because the parties have changed their policies, class appeals, or personnel, or both. Early explanations focused on the classes themselves, arguing that they had become more similar in terms of living conditions, ideologies, and identities. However, later longitudinal studies failed to find such convergences taking place. The workers still have poorer, more uncertain, and shorter lives than their middle-class counterparts, identify more with the working class, and are more in favor of redistribution and opposed to immigration. While the classes are still distinctive, it seems that the parties have changed. Several social democratic parties have become less representative of working-class voters in terms of policies, rhetorical appeals, or the changing social composition of their activists and leaders. This representational defection is a response to the declining size of the working class, but not to the changing character or extent of class divisions in preferences. It is also connected to the exogeneous rise of new issues, on which these parties tend not to align with working-class preferences. By failing to represent the preferences or identities of many of their former core supporters, social democratic parties have initiated a supply-side driven process of realignment. This has primarily taken two forms; class–party realignments on both left and right and growing class inequalities in participation and representation.