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Study Notes

Voting behaviour

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

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Voting behaviour is the way that different people tend to vote. It is studied so that political scientists, or more accurately political psychologists, can understand why certain people vote for different political parties and so that political parties can predict who might vote for them in the future, which helps them to plan the policies, communication and the people who might best represent them and persuade voters to vote for them at the next election.

The study of voting behaviour can be roughly divided into long-term and short-term influences. Long-term influences include social class, gender, race, culture, religion, age, education, housing tenure and simple long-term political alignment (when people just say “I’m Labour” for instance). Short-term influence include the performance of the governing party, major issues, the electoral campaign,the image of party leaders, the influence of the mass media and major political events (e.g. war or economic crises).

Political psychologists are now working on how attitudes and beliefs are formed, how people structure the knowledge they have about political issues, and how information given to them is processed. These are helping to explain how the electorate is able to make more informed voting choices in spite of low overall levels of political sophistication and attentiveness.

The recent 2015 election, in which opinion poll predictions were proved wildly inaccurate, has shone a light on a need to understand the gap between what people say they might do and what they actually do in the privacy of the ballot box. The concepts of “shy” or “embarrassed” Tories and the concept of which issues are actually ‘salient’ (actually affect voting) need to be examined closer.

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