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The Emerging Social-Democratic Majority in French, German and British

Mathieu Vieira
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Fabien Escalona
Sciences Po Grenoble
Mathieu Vieira
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper investigates changes in electoral support for social-democratic parties in Western Europe by testing a new concept elaborated in the U.S. context. Following Judis and Teixeira (2002), it argues that the electoral dynamic of major European social-democratic parties has geographically shifted to “ideopolises”, i.e. cities with a post-industrial profile. Then, it illustrates that such a shift is part of wider transformations of the electoral base of social-democratic parties, in particular regarding the trend of working class dealignment (Clark and Lipset, 1991, 2001; Evans, 1999; Knutsen, 2006). Two interrelated hypotheses are formulated: (1) changes in the issues shaping party competition, linked to the end of post-war economic boom and the growing impact of a cultural dimension of conflict; (2) changes in the electorate, linked to demographic and sociological trends. The paper focuses on the French Socialist Party, the British Labour Party, and the German Social Democratic Party, three parties representing different traditions of the European social democracy, and yet experiencing similar developments. It demonstrates that the geographical shift of the electoral dynamic in these three countries is linked to a combination between two types of change (Escalona and Vieira, forthcoming): on the one hand, new positions of social-democratic parties on economic and cultural issues, acquired during critical realignment phases; on the other hand, gradual sociological transformations of the electorate in cities with “ideopolises” characteristics. The study is based on aggregate electoral results at the city-level from 1980 to 2010, but also on demographic and economic data.