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The Depoliticization of Inequality and Redistribution: Explaining the Decline of Class Voting

The collapse of the class basis of party choice in Britain since the 1980s has been assumed to result from the diminishing distinctiveness of social classes in the postindustrial world. We argue instead that class dealignment results from the impact of an ideologically restricted choice set on the electoral relevance of values concerning inequality and redistribution. As these values provide a mechanism through which class divisions translate into differences in party choice, their declining relevance produces a concomitant decline in the effect of class position. These propositions are tested using British survey data covering the period from 1983 to 2010. We show that a supply-side constriction in the choices presented to voters, rather than the weakening of class divisions, accounts for the declining political relevance of redistributive values and the class basis of party choice. The politics of class influences class voting, not vice versa.