Voting Behaviour

There is a lot of effort that goes into political campaigns. There's the endless leafleting, door knocking, appearances on Newsnight, and even social media campaigns. All these efforts are exerted in the hopes they will be successful in convincing you to vote for a particular candidate or party. 

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    But what if these efforts were in vain, what if people did not use party policies or manifesto to determine whom to vote for but who to vote for was pretty much predetermined by factors such as an individual's class, ethnicity or age? The study of voting behaviour allows us to understand how people vote and the factors that affect voting. Let's take a look at voting behaviours in this article.

    Meaning of voting behaviour

    When we're looking at the meaning of voting behaviour, we're referring to studies surrounding the ways in which various individuals have a tendency to vote and this is of particular concern to political analysis and politicians. Voting behaviours can appear in a variety of categories.

    For example, voting behaviours can take the form of the observation of a persistent pattern of elderly people voting for the Conservative Party, Scottish people primarily voting for the Scottish National Party or ethnic minorities largely voting for the Labour Party. Or even why some people vote Labour in one election and Conservative the next. By undertaking a study of why the aforementioned people vote the way they do, the presence of particular voting behaviours can be established.

    Importance of voting behaviour

    The study of voting behaviour is of importance for a number of reasons. To predict future politics, patterns can be derived from analysing voting behaviours. It is possible to draw correlations between how satisfied people are with their government by looking at data about the number of people that voted in an election and who they voted for.

    In addition, political scientists can identify why individuals vote for particular parties based on their voting behaviour and political parties can better predict who will vote for them in future elections when this data is shared with them. To gain the best electoral results in later elections, political parties will tailor their policies and communications with the electorate based on this knowledge.

    Voting behaviours can also highlight underlying issues in the political sphere. For example, observing the presence of a difference in voting behaviours between the north and the south of England suggests a presence of a north-south divide, therefore acknowledging the north-south divide can be important to political parties due to the scope for region-specific policies which address the needs of the people from these regions.

    Types of voting behaviours

    There are two main types of voting behaviours, these are short-term and long-term voting behaviours.

    Short-term voting behaviours refer to things that may affect voting behaviours for a shorter period of time. These are usually in relation to a single election and do not have an effect on voting in later elections, such as the public image of a particular candidate and how they present themselves.

    Ed Miliband was the leader of the Labour Party and a potential Prime Minister; however, he was famously captured eating a sandwich in a strange manner which caused many people to criticise his image (alongside a number of other more substantial reasons) and his popularity among voters decreased.

    Voting Behaviour Portrait of Ed MilibandFig. 1 Portrait of Ed Miliband

    Single issues also have short-term effects on voting behaviours, such as the current economic crisis or upcoming referendums.

    The issue of Brexit and who would be able to finalise the Brexit deal had a significant effect on the voting behaviour of the 2019 general election and could have been an important factor in the election of Boris Johnson, this, however, would not have been a consideration in say the 2010 General Election.

    Long-term voting behaviours are voting behaviours factors that affect the ways in which voters behave over a long period of time such as ethnicity, geography, or class.

    Factors Affecting Voting Behaviour

    There are a number of factors that affect voting behaviour, these can be individual or non-individual. It is important for political scientists, politicians and political parties to identify and understand which factors affect voting behaviour and why.

    Individual Factors that affect voting behaviour

    Let's take a look at some individual factors that affect voting behaviour. Some of the most important ones include, class, age, gender, and ethnicity.

    You might notice that individual factors tend to be those that affect long-term voting behaviours the most.


    Historically, in the United Kingdom until the 1970s, voting behaviour and class were intrinsically linked. The Labour Party had traditionally catered to the political demands of the working class. This was highlighted through its close affiliation to trade unions. Those who worked in white-collar professions or belonged to the middle class often voted for the Conservative Party. This was before a process of class dealignment began taking place towards the end of the 20th century.

    Class dealignment refers to the process whereby individuals stop identifying themselves as being a part of a particular social class. This then results in voters no longer voting for a party that those from a similar class were traditionally aligned with.

    Voting Behaviour Class disparities StudySmarterFig. 2 Class disparities


    According to studies of voting behaviour, a general rule in the UK is that the younger an individual is, the more inclined they will be to vote for a party that leans more towards the left of the political spectrum. Conversely, as they age, more likely they are to vote for a right-leaning party.

    The UK has an ageing population, which means that older generations are disproportionately represented as a total of the whole population. This impacts the way a political party will choose to campaign and the policies it chooses to adopt, as the older population are a significant proportion of voters. This is even more important because the younger you are, the less likely you are to vote.


    Gender is another individual factor that influences voting behaviour, though the degree to which gender plays a role in what party individuals vote for has decreased over time. Today, there are only slight biases of male voters towards the Conservatives and women voters towards the Labour Party.

    There are, however, two main party issues that are affected by a difference in voting behaviours between men and women. These are the party's stances on war and nuclear power. Men often vote for parties that prioritise these issues, whereas generally speaking women vote for parties that prioritise education and health.


    Ethnic minorities in the UK are still largely working class and are more likely to vote for a left-leaning party, as seen with the Labour Party, who receives a large proportion of votes from ethnic minorities. This is paired with the fact that historically, the Conservative Party has not had good relations with ethnic communities in the UK.

    Mass immigration in the 1950s meant more ethnic minorities in inner cities. At the time when people of colour were benefitting from Labour's policies, the Conservative party was publicly and explicitly antagonistic on issues such as immigration. To this day, ethnic minorities remember the Conservative Party's infamous racist campaign, which encouraged Brits to vote for Labour if they wanted a black person for a neighbour. This was a tactic to cause fear and hatred amongst racists in the UK who did not want to live amongst blacks and therefore would vote for Conservatives to prevent multi-ethnic or multi-racial communities.

    Other factors that affect voting behaviour

    Other non-individual factors which can affect voting behaviour include region and party policy.

    Region - The region a voter resides in has also proved to be an influential factor in voting behaviours and is often linked to the effects of class, which is a factor discussed above. The north of England and Wales are significantly poorer than the south of England. In the south of England, there's a stronger bias towards the Conservative Party, whereas in the north a higher percentage of support for the Labour Party can be found.

    Party Policy - Party policies also affect voting behaviours, an individual aligns themselves with parties whose policies most cater to their own needs. As well as party policies, political campaigns are also important factors that affect voting behaviours. Oftentimes, political parties will focus their efforts on launching a campaign on a topic they know is important to voters or will garner a large amount of support from voters.

    Theories of Voting behaviour

    When people vote, what is most important to them is often a driving force for how they choose to vote, regardless of societal factors. To explain how voting decisions are made, there are three theories of voting behaviour. These are rational choice, issue voting, and valance issues.

    Rational choice theory is a theory used to explain voting behaviours and discounts such as the previously mentioned factors such as ethnicity, age and class. The rational choice theory suggests that voting behaviour is based on rational decisions. Individuals logically and rationally compare party manifestos, policies and party records in order to decide which party or candidate to vote for.

    Therefore, rational choice theory this theory suggests that party policies play the largest role when it comes to voting behaviours. This theory is widely contested, and it is generally accepted amongst political scientists that whilst some voters may rationally assess political candidates in order to decide on whom to vote for, other factors also have an impact on their voting decisions.

    Voting Behaviour Rational or irrational choices StudySmarterFig. 3 Rational or Irrational choices

    Issue voting and valence issues are also included within theories of voting behaviour and are believed to be integral components when it comes to voting behaviours.

    Issue voting is when the voter prioritises a single issue above anything else.

    Valence issues refer to issues in which voters have a shared desired outcome or preference (such as the desire for an improved economy).

    Voting Behaviour - Key takeaways

    • Voting behaviour refers to patterns that can be drawn from analysing voters at the polls over a period of time.

    • Politicians use information from voting behaviours to create their policies and to determine how to brand themselves for an election.

    • There are both long-term and short-term factors that affect voting behaviour.

    • Younger voters, ethnic minorities and working-class people have historically had a stronger tendency to vote for left-leaning parties.

    • In the UK, the older generations play a pivotal role in election outcomes as the UK is an ageing population and older generations have a higher voter turnout.


    1. Fig. 1 Official Portrait of Rt Hon Edward Miliband MP crop ( by Richard Townshed licensed by CC-BY-3.0 (
    2. Fig. 2 Pyramid of different social and economic classes by population and wealth ( by Kaxan Pierrson licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (!_1991_%D0%9A%D1%83%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BA%D0%B0_(20)_1.jpg)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Voting Behaviour

    What is voting behaviour?

    Voting behaviour refers to the ways in which various individuals have a tendency  to vote. 

    What are factors affecting voting behaviour?

    There are a number of factors that can affect voting behaviours such as age, class, ethnicity and contextual issues.

    How does age affect voting behaviour?

    Generally, younger voters lean more to parties on the left of the political spectrum and have a lower voter turnout compared to older voters. 

    What are theories of voting behaviour?

    The rational choice theory is a theory of voting behaviour. Issue voting and valence voting also serve to explain why people make their respective voting decisions. 

    What is the importance of voting behaviour?

    Voting behaviour  allows political parties to tailor their policies and the ways in which they communicate with the electorate to gain favourable outcomes.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What are the three main theories of voting behaviour?

    T/F Since the 1970s, class dealignment has decreased.

    Which party policies are men more likely to vote for in the UK?


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