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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.


The Political Role of the African Middle Class: The Over-Politicization of an Elusive Category  

Dominique Darbon

The African middle class (AMC) is an elusive category with high political significance. In spite of its vagueness and its controversial nature, this so-called social category is consistently used by a number of individual actors and institutions alike, including IO, NGOs, business interests, and political leaders in Africa for political purposes. The words “African middle class” are suggestive enough to produce new images of African social structures and turn the “hopeless continent” into a “miracle,” a new “powerhouse.” They are strong enough to grant new legitimacy to failing political leaders and the well off and to let people and academics alike anticipate the rise of democratic, stable, uncorrupted institutions. However, people “of the middle of the diamond” in Africa do not exist as a social community or a class. They do not share a common political identity. They have no political role of their own. The diversity of social subgroups may occasionally mobilize together, but for a short period of time and on highly different grounds. The political role of the AMC is as elusive as their mere existence. New social groups of limited prosperity are on the rise. However, they are far from making a class and mobilizing for political purposes. The rise of middle classes in emerging countries became a research theme at the beginning of the 2000s. The discussion took root in sub-Saharan African countries in the 2010s without any in-depth debate about its relevance. It was as if the AMC or classes already existed before the examination of a still very confused and heterogeneous set of transformations of the social structure of African societies was conducted. As a result, the AMC concept appears in almost all analyses as elastic, elusive, cobbled together, and uncertain as to its boundaries, its characteristics, its components, or its homogeneity. This confusion does not prevent authors from anticipating the meaning and effects of the AMC for political stability and democratization. Before studying how the people grouped behind this label can affect and be affected by politics and policies, it is necessary to understand how politically loaded this middle-class label is.


Social Structure and Voting Choice  

Oddbjørn Knutsen

The linkage between voters and political parties is to some degree based on stable social cleavages. Such cleavages express important and lasting societal divisions, allow parties and voters to establish long-term ties, and provide incumbents with clear representative and policy-making tasks against which they can be evaluated. Most research on cleavages has been based on the classic cleavages that were outlined in the Lipset-Rokkan model for social cleavages in industrial societies. These are: (1) the center–periphery cleavage, which is anchored in geographical regions and related to different ethnic and linguistic groups as well as religious minorities; (2) the religious conflict between the Church and the State, which pitted the secular state against the historical privileges of the churches; this cleavage has more recently polarized the religious section against the secular section of the population; (3) the class conflict in the labor market, which involved owners and employers versus tenants, laborers, and workers; and (4) the conflict in the commodity market between buyers and sellers of agricultural products, or more generally, between the urban and the rural population. Other social cleavages, such as gender, educational differences, and new divisions within the large new middle class, have been focused upon during the last decades. The new divisions within the new middle class are “horizontal” conflicts and can be conceptualized as a basic conflict between public and private employees, and as an alternative way of conceptualization, between those who work within technical, organizational, or interpersonal service environments. Some of the cleavages have declined in importance over time, while others have increased. Some cleavages have changed character such as the class cleavage where part of the new middle class has voted for the New Left and part of the working class has voted for the New Right in the last decades. Changes in the impact and character of different cleavages have resulted in strategic reconsideration of important policies and changing location of the parties in the political space.


Costa Rica: Demilitarization and Democratization  

John A. Booth

An isolated Spanish frontier settlement with little or no significant mineral wealth, exportable crops, or exploitable indigenous population, colonial Costa Rica had only a rudimentary military. After independence in 1825, the population expanded and diversified as coffee cultivation generated growing wealth. Competing factions of the emergent coffee bourgeoisie fought to control the emerging state using elite-linked military officers to seize ruling power. Modernization and an external threat from Nicaragua and U.S. freebooters at mid-19th century led nation-building leaders to invest heavily in the army. Victorious in the 1856–1857 National War in Nicaragua, the military attained maximum size and power from 1870 to 1920 while oligarchic factions disputed ruling authority via fraudulent elections and coups d’état. Integration into the world economy deepened with banana production after 1890. Subsequent recessions and wars generated domestic economic inequality and a growing labor movement demanding reform. Civilian rule in the early 20th century was interrupted by the military regime of Federico Tinoco (1917–1919), whose atrocities led his civilian successors to almost dismantle the army. When a civil war erupted in 1948 against the divided, Communist-allied reformist government of the 1940s, the rebels defeated the army. The victorious National Liberation junta and new constitution abolished the army in 1949. Costa Rica committed to a police-based security model, nonaggression toward neighbors, and reliance on international alliances. Meanwhile, elites, spared the menace of military disruption, developed a successful electoral democratic regime. This has contributed to seven decades of political stability and allowed Costa Rica to invest successfully in economic development and its citizens’ welfare.