Elff, Martin and Sigrid Roßteutscher. 2022. “Education as a new cleavage? The relevance of class, education, and income in a long-term perspective”.


It has often been claimed in recent literature that class voting is in decline due to the increasing salience of cultural issues, which leads to a re-alignment of the working classes with right-wing populism. Stubager (2010; 2013) goes even further and claims that education has become the new structural cleavage. Others (e.g. van der Waal et al. 2007) argue in favour of an analytical decomposition of class: while both income and education are related to class, they show different relations to value orientations and voting. Income continues to be related to the traditional economic left-right dimension (pitting socialist orientations against preferences for free-market capitalism), while education increasingly is related to the social/cultural value dimension (pitting highly educated social liberals against low educated social conservatives and authoritarians). However both strands of the literature agree that these are rather new developments. (West) Germany is a case that is unique in allowing to test the validity of these notions, in so far as both the social/cultural liberal-conservative dimension as well as the economic socialist/free-market dimension find a sufficiently strong expression in the party system and as a relatively long time series of election study data is available. We make use of these opportunities by analysing a long-term compilation of German electoral studies from 1949 to 2021 and examining the dynamics of change in “socio-economic” voting and “educational voting”, i.e. whether the latter displace the former and whether these changes are relatively new or the reflection of a long-term process. For the long-term study we focus on the socio-structural characteristics’ impact on SPD- and non-voting and add two shorter trend analyses for Green party vote (1982 to present) and AfD vote (2013 to 2021). For all four trends we compare the relative weight of class compared to education and income.

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