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In this essay, I will begin by exploring the argument for
economic benefits as a determinant of voter preferences, using evidence to
illustrate this view. However, through examining Inglehart’s Post-materialistic
thesis (in the context of western economies), it becomes clear that this
traditional view has changed somewhat, with a shift to an emphasis on sociological
interests in determining voter preferences. By using evidence from Rob Ford
(2014), I will illustrate how choices in some areas are defined by pre-existing
party support (endogenously) and not due to economic or social interests
(exogenously). I then link this to Daniel Bell’s end of theology thesis, to
finally argue that it is sociological factors, not Economic, that are the
primary determinant of voter preference, despite many other factors and
individual experiences determining voter preferences on a personal level.

The traditional view is that voter’s political preferences
are mostly economically determined, with the belief that the richer you were,
the more right-wing you tended to vote, as it was in-line with your economic
interests. Karl Marx argues that people’s ‘position about the means of
production’ determines their political preferences. Owners of Land and Capital
had different economic interests, and it
was this difference that defined the
respective political interests of these groups. Party
preferences of lottery winners over an extended period was compiled by Nattavudh
and Oswald (2014).The lottery is randomly
assigned economic wealth, so using lottery data writes off other ties between
higher-incomes and voting right-wing (such as right-wing ideologies relating to
motivation, lead to higher incomes). Research suggested that winning the
lottery increased the probability of voting conservative. Furthermore, winning £500 or more increased the likelihood
of voting Conservative by around 2%, suggesting that the higher the lottery
amount, the more conservative a voter shifted. Further evidence from the Great
Recession of 2008 indicated that the personal experience of economic hardship,
particularly the loss of a job, increases the average probability of support
for higher welfare spending by about 22-25%. This statistic supports the
overall traditional argument of Marx as economic interests have now changed,
leading to a change in voter preference. If an individual loses their job,
their position has changed relative to
the means of production, so their economic interests have changed, inevitably
leading to more significant support for welfare spending, as evidenced by the
study.

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However, according to data, this change was short-lived, and
once individuals adjusted, and regained employment, their support for the
expansion of welfare spending decreased significantly. It appears to reflect a
more transient response to an immediate and short-lived situation. There seems to be a shift in emphasis, once an
individual is economically stable, linking in well with post-materialism, which
we will go on to discuss.

More recently, there is agreement amongst Political
scientists that economics is a declining contributor to voters’ preferences.
Ron Inglehart theory published in 1977, stated that economic interests
determined voter’s preferences up to a point, but once people reach a certain
level of economic well-being, they are no longer driven by economic interests.
Pairing this with a mass University education has led to a shift to more
post-materialistic values, where concerns focus on personal autonomy,
self-expression and intellectual satisfaction rather than economic interests.
People will focus more on social aspects with the left standing for equal rights,
multiculturalism and environmentalism, and the right opting for more
traditional values as well as a reinstatement of strong national identity.  These factors have been integrated into the
Left-Right scale to ensure ideological consistency, while economic factors have
been crowded out (De Vries et al.2013). Key evidence for this post-materialist
theory lies with the fact that parties have adjusted to these more
post-materialistic values, with the success of various green parties across
Europe, displaying as unmistakable evidence of a sustained shift from material
to post-material views (Muller-Rommell). Further evidence comes from Inglehart,
and Abrahams found that in the ‘early 19790s and 1990s the percentage
post-materialists quadrupled in Denmark, tripled in Britain and doubled in
Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. These are countries whose
economies saw higher standards of living and greater education provision,
relative to Asia and the Middle East, where voters lack the economic security
associated with a shift to post-materialism, leading to smaller shifts to
post-materialistic views in these countries. Research also showed that ‘by
2010, post-materialist will outnumber materialists by a ratio of 6 to one,’ inevitably
leading to social interests becoming a more crucial factor than economic interests.

What is interesting to note, is that there may be a causal
mechanism linking the primary determinants of voter preference being economic
or social, that depends upon the business cycle, with booms associated with
lower unemployment, and busts associated with higher unemployment,
strengthening the argument for Post-Materialism. As mentioned above, the
personal experience of economic hardship, particularly the loss of a job,
increased the average probability of support for higher welfare spending by
about 22-25%. Post-materialism argues that when necessities are met, voters are no longer driven by
economic interests, with a shift to more post-materialistic views. However,
when the individual becomes unemployed during a bust, those necessities may not
necessarily be met, leading to a change back to voting primarily due to
economic interests (greater support for welfare spending amongst those who have
become recently unemployed). According to data, ‘with the passing of time, as
the temporary unemployed regained employment, their support for welfare
spending decreases significantly’ (and hence voting in a materialistic manner
decreases significantly), leading to a shift back to post-materialistic values.
The shift to post-materialistic values is attributed
to the fact that basic economic needs have now been met again. Inglehart’s Thesis of post-materialism was challenged by the recent rise in support
for populist materialist parties in the West such as UKIP or the FNF. These parties and their supporters carry deeply
rooted ideals against immigration, with their primary arguments concerning
cultural identity (a social interest) as well as domestic employment (an
economic interest). However, this
materialist view is a characteristic of weak growth in Eurozone countries, as
well as austerity leading to growing frustrations about living standards.
Therefore, we can argue that these voters may not feel that they have the
economic security required to be post-materialistic. It cannot be attributed to
the xenophobia of these party supporters, as this would have been an existing
ideology, which wouldn’t have been reflected by the growth of populist parties
as soon as these doctrines manifested
themselves. For now, the rise of populist groups can challenge the view of
post-materialism, as more research needs to be carried out.

Another difficulty associated with understanding preferences
is that peoples pre-existing ideologies. Looking party affiliations in
particular, which in my example, have arisen due to the voter’s opinion on
Homo-sexuality (a social interest). In this case,
this individual voter is neutral on the extent to which the government should
intervene in markets (an independent economic interest).
Rob Ford (2014), looked at attitudes of British
voters towards the 10 Downing Street cat of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
According to data, Conservative voter approval ratings were 44% when they were
told that it was Margaret Thatcher’s cat, but decreased to 25% when informed
that it was Tony Blair’s cat. There was a similar trend amongst Labour
voters with higher approval ratings when informed
it was Tony Blair’s cat, suggesting that pre-existing party support is a factor
contributing to preferences, even if this matter was utterly independent (a
cat). Linking this back to the example, this means voters preferences regarding
the economic policy(extent of government intervention) can change according to
their preferences on social policy(view on homosexuality). From this, we can
propose a linking mechanism (i.e., one determinant effects the other) between
what is considered the two central determinants of voter preference, making it
difficult to attribute voter preference to the primary
determinant.

However, David Bells thesis may go some way to eradicating
this problem. According to Bell, ideological debates had been exhausted in the
west, and left/right orientations (in economics) were diminishing, where the
West was reaching a consensus about contentious policy issues in the past. Now,
with the acceptance of a welfare state, a mixed economy, political pluralism
and the desirability of decentralized power, the strength of economic factors
in determining voter preferences had been reduced. We can support this theory
by the observation that new ideologies are emerging in developing nations in
Asia and the Middle East, where struggles surrounding economic security still
exist. Linking this back to my example, if a voter has an opinion on
homosexuality and is neutral on government intervention in markets, their party
affiliations will affect their economic policy preference minimally, as in the
West consensus about government intervention has been reached. In the opposite
case, if a voter were to conform with their economic interests (with some
regard to social matters), many parties will apply to them, decreasing the
strength of party affiliation, because the voter can change party if they moved
too far left/right of their social interests. We can suggest that this argument
leads to a weakening of the linking mechanism between voting in line with
economic benefits and voting in line with social benefits, making it easier to
discover the primary determinant of voter
preference.

 In conclusion, it is
clear that economic interests are not the main
determinant of voter preference in developed countries, given that the voter
has the necessities to survive. The essay has provided sufficient evidence that
post-materialism is the principal determinant in Western Economies, not only
general increases in the post-materialistic populations as economic wealth and
education provision increases but shift to short-run shift to materialism when
the voter does not attain the necessities required to survive (a requirement
for post-materialism). Pre-existing ideologies, in this case, party
affiliation, can complicate the relationship between social and economic
interests but by using David Bells thesis assessing the reaching of a consensus
surrounding economic policy in the West, the complicated relationship becomes
simpler. I understand that Inglehart’s thesis was contrary to Bells, but there
is sufficient evidence to suggest that a combination of both have led to a
shift away from Marxian views being the main
determinant of voter preferences, and a shift
towards social interests being the main
determinant of voter preference. 

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