From De-alignment to Re-alignment? The Transformation of Social Cleavages in Germany

Elff, Martin, Sigrid Roßteutscher, and Christof Wolf. 2021 [forthcoming]. "Dealignment, Realignment, or Both? The Transformation of Social Cleavages in Germany". The Changing German Voter, ed. by Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, Sigrid Roßteutscher, Harald Schoen, Bernhard Weßels, and Christof Wolf. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


For decades, the changing role of the traditional cleavage structure and its impact on electoral behaviour has been debated in Germany and elsewhere. Until the federal election 2005, however, analyses concerning the link between cleavage structures and party choice provided clear evidence for the persistence of cleavage voting in Germany. Most recent result, however, undermine the story of stability. The federal election of 2009 is a watershed in this regard: while the social democrats suffered massive losses, non-voting increased massively among the working class and lower service professions. Against the backdrop of a brief analysis of the evolving cleavage structure in Germany since the 1950s, we then focus on the decisive years since 2009. In particular, we analyse the linkages between changes in class voting, changes in turnout, and the rise of a new right-wing populist party in Germany, the AfD. By separating short-term and long-term effects, our analysis therefore has important implications for the understanding of cleavage voting and the rise of right-wing politics.