Self-employed Voting Behavior in Italy, Spain (and the UK)
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The relation between social class and voting has long since been studied and comparative researches have generally shown a declining relation between class and vote (Schnell and Kohler 1995, Nieuwbeerta and Manza 2002, Knutsen 2006). Some studies, however, have criticized these findings, showing that using a more complex class perspective than the one provided by the Alford index, may result in trendless fluctuations of class voting (Evans 1999, Goldthorpe 2001) or in re-alignment, that is to say in changing voting pattern due to the emergence of new parties and the use of more refined class schemas (Oesch 2008). Other studies point out that, while the association between class and political preferences in the left-right self-positioning continue to be meaningful, this does not imply that the voting behaviour show the same pattern over time, due to political supply factors (Barone et al. 2007). In fact, Evans (1999) recognizes that in Britain the declining of class voting may be associated with the changing strategy of the New Labour party, defined as a “catch-all” party (Evans 1999).
While UK has been extensively studied, and used in comparative research on this matter, Italy and – even more – Spain, have been less often considered. In Italy, class voting has been weak compared to Nordic countries and Germany for many years (Bellucci 2001) and only with Berlusconi a clear class voting pattern has emerged (Itanes 2001, Caciagli e Corbetta 2002, Maraffi 2008). In Spain, class voting strongly emerged in the 80s due to a party realignment which polarised class-related choices – followed by a period of stability during the following years until the decade of 1990s, when it starts to decline (Orriols 2013).
This paper focus on the voting behaviour of a specific social class, the self-employed, which best represent the first cleavage indicated by Lipset and Rokkan (1967), the one between workers ad employers/owners. Employers and small owners are one of the few groups that could be considered a class in the Weberian sense (Oesch 2008). In many countries, and in Italy since 1994, self-employed have preferred to vote for centre-right parties. However, in recent years their voting behaviour might have changed.
Using data from the EES Voter studies in 2004, 2009 and 2014, which allow cross-country comparison, we analyse the voting behaviour in the Southern Europe countries, Italy and Spain, comparing it with Britain – a country where class voting has long since been present. The questions that we will try to answer in the paper are the following:
1. Is the voting behaviour of self-employed changed over time in the countries considered?
2. Does specific personal characteristics affect the voting behaviour of the self-employed?
3. Does different attitudes towards politics affect the voting behaviour of this class?
4. Finally, does self-employed vote change in association with the perceived changes in the positioning of centre-left parties?