Class and labor market risk as predictors of preferences

Building on the findings from my PhD project (see below), I am currently investigating whether traditional class concepts have lost power over time in predicting individual policy preferences or not. I use survey data from Sweden, the US and Great Britain that spans more than 40 years and asks for respondents’ opinion on a variety of political issues.

In a first step, I want to see if differences between classes have increased or if they have converged. The second step is to see if and how the correlation between an individual’s class position and her preferences has changed. In a third step, and a second paper, I want to test if newer measures of social stratification of labor, e.g. risk of job loss or risk of automation, perform better or lead to more coherent preferences of social groups than traditional class schemes. The findings can help us to understand not only how useful the different measures are for political sociologists but how important different group identities are in shaping people’s minds and political demands.

Labor market dualization as a new cleavage

In my PhD project, finished in 2019, I investigated whether the increasingly important differences between insiders and outsiders at the labor market translate into differences in their political attitudes and their voting behavior, too.

Bringing together concepts from political economy and political sociology, I showed that we are still far from a cleavage that may exert as much influence on the political landscape as for example the traditional work vs. labor cleavage. However, labor market risks, especially the risk of becoming unemployed, shape political preferences regarding distributional issues but, albeit to a lesser extent, also of European integration or other questions that are not initially linked to different positions at the labor market. Labor market risks and different degrees of exposure to them could thus become a type of social inequality that is important not only to understand individual worries but also shifts and changes in the political sphere.

Unequal responsiveness in Germany

Research from the US has shown that political decisions are biased in favor the rich. When rich and poor disagree on policy proposals, the better-off are much more likely to get their way. A popular explanation for this finding has been the important role money plays in US politics, especially as regards campaign financing.

Together with Lea Elsässer and Armin Schäfer, I have been working on a project that asks if this finding also holds for Germany – a much more equal democracy where campaigns are mainly funded through public sources. We set up a unique data base that contains survey questions on more 1,000 policy proposals from 1980 to 2015 and combined these with information on whether the proposals were implemented or not.

We find a very similar pattern for Germany, arguing that is very likely not the role money plays in politics, but (a lack of) descriptive representation that explains the similarity with the US. The project resulted in several publications (see publication list) and the accompanying data set is soon to be released.