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Dominant ideology model

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The dominant ideology model is a model of voting behaviour that suggests that voters are persuaded by dominant groups and institutions in society, such as governments, political parties and business interest groups) to accept an ideology that is sympathetic to the interests of those dominant groups and institutions, voting accordingly.

Associated mainly with the work of Patrick Dunleavy and Christopher Husbands, the dominant ideology model suggests that the dominant groups and institutions tend to use the mass media to communicate the dominant ideology, and are reliant on the mass media to be sympathetic to that dominant ideology.

As part of this, governments (whether Labour or Conservative), have opportunities to persuade the voters to re-elect them that are not so easily available to opposition parties. Prime Ministers have the chance to solidify their image as World leaders, and the government can manipulate statistics to their own advantage.

Dunleavy and Husbands were writing in 1985, just after a very left-wing Labour Party had been crushed at the 1983 election, cause partly by Margaret Thatcher winning the Falklands War but also because of the policies such as council house sales and privatisation which were supported by the media. Labour’s leaders and more radical policies received highly unsympathetic coverage from the media at the same time.

By the mid-1990s this had switched around, with coverage of the Labour opposition becoming more sympathetic, and their careful media management once in government bearing fruit for a decade, resulting in New Labour being highly popular and electorally successful.

A key point to make here is that the mass media do tend to be biased in the interests of Conservatism or modern social democracy, and against more radical ideological policies. These biases can have a significant impact on voting behaviour.

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