Class Voting, Working Class Turnout and the Rise of Populism

Elff, Martin. 2019. “Class Voting, Working Class Turnout and the Rise of Populism”. Presented the 4th International ESS Conference, 15-17 April 2019 at the University of Mannheim.


A common explanation for the decline of social democratic and centre-left parties and the rise of populism is that the traditional working class is shrinking and that new political divides over globalisation and migration cut across historic cleavages between workers and owners of capital. The paper puts these notions to the test. Using data from the European Social Survey - and thus generalising research based on data from German electoral studies and general social surveys - it examines (1) whether the working class is shrinking towards insignificance or merely changes its character; (2) whether and under what conditions members of the working class defect to non-left parties or, no longer being mobilised by social democratic and centre-left parties, withdraw from electoral politics; (3) the degree to which the recent rise of right-wing populism can be attributed to a return of disenchanted working-class members into politics; (4) what aspects of the social and political context moderate the working-class appeal of populism is strongly dependent on the social and political context.