The Rise of New Cleavages and their Impact on Voting Choices in Denmark

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2008 20 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Western Europe



1. Preface

Part I

2. Backgrounds
2.1 The Cleavage Theory: An Overview
2.2 The Danish ‘Landslide Election’ 1973

Part II

3. New Cleavages in Denmark
3.1 The ‘New Left’ and ‘New Right’
3.2 New Structural Cleavages
3.2.1 Sector Employment
3.2.2 Gender
3.3 The Emergence of New Value Cleavages
3.3 1 Materialist–Postmaterialist Values
3.3.2 Authoritarian–Libertarian Values
3.4 The ‘New Politics’ Dimension
3.4.1 Environment
3.4.2 Immigration

4. New Cleavages and Danish Voting Choice: A Summarize

5. References

1. Preface

The traditional class-based party choice is interestingly a ghost of the past.
(Henning Jørgensen, 2002)

The cleavages of Western Europe have received constant attention from scholars. In the particular case of Denmark, previous and recent publications from several researchers, such as Andersen (‘The Decline of Class Voting Revisited’, 1992), Borre (‘Old and New Politics’, 1995), Knutsen (‘Voter and Social Cleavages’, 2004) and Stubager (‘The Education Cleavage’, 2006), have been devoted to the decline of class voting over the last 15 years.

All these authors agree with the assumption that cleavages based on traditional social conflicts have been decreasing in significance and that it fails to explain voters preferences in today’s modern Denmark. Instead of that, new cleavages, like sector employment or even new value orientations, decide to a larger extent how citizens cast their votes. In addition to this and compared to the past, ‘New Politics’ issues like environment or immigration have now a deeper impact on voting choices and are therefore challenging the ‘Old Politics’ dimension is dominated by economic issues.

The purpose of this essay is to enhance the understanding of new cleavages in Denmark by producing comprehensive answers to the following questions: What has caused the rise of new cleavages and how are they characterized? How do the new cleavages and ‘New Politics’ influence the voting choice? A problem of writing this paper has been the lack of current data, since most of the analyses to which this paper refers are based on figures until the 1990s. Thus, we can only assume that a discussion about new cleavages in Denmark is still being valid.

The paper is divided into two parts. Before addressing the new cleavages, we first take a short look at the cleavage theory proposed by Rokkan and Lipset regarding to the consequences of the ‘Landslide Election’ from 1973 in part I. This sets the stage for the later analysis and provides us an understanding in the way that political issues have been generated. Part II is dedicated to the main topic of this paper, the new cleavages and ‘New Politics’ in Denmark, where we consider not only the cleavages and values but also new decisive issues –environment and immigration.

Finally, we examine the importance of new cleavages and ‘New Politics’ in Denmark by focusing on the voting choices before we summarize our findings.

2. Backgrounds

2.1 The Cleavage Theory: An Overview

Cleavages are considered to be the most important criteria to explain voting choices and they can be defined as “clashes of interests” (Knutsen and Scarbrough, 1995: 493) established in social structures. “They are deep structural divides that persist through time and through generations” (Mair, 2002: 373). Cleavages produce social division that separates groups of people sharing a collective identity and finding organizational expression, such as political parties, trade unions or churches. The cleavage theory is generally based on the assumption that the existence of social classes determines voting choices, i.e. voters opt for a certain party that provide issues which represent their own interests. Socially established cleavages become politically effective as soon as wide parts of the population are mobilized by getting access to elections.

A first cleavage theory was created in 1967 by the social scientists Rokkan and Lipset. Both focused on four basic cleavages which became relevant “throughout the period of mass mobilization” (Knutsen and Scarbrough, 1995: 493) of the National and Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century. The first cleavage was a result from the division between people in the city centre and those who were living in the periphery. The centre-periphery cleavage focus on the differentiation of ethnic, linguistic and religious (confessional) minority groups and it has been caused by the modern nation-state building (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967: 14). In Denmark, when the nation-state was formed, people in the countryside were barely educated in political issues in comparison to other European countries. Their interests were mainly represented by the (Agrarian) Liberals.

The center-periphery cleavage is connected to the second cleavage by church and state. While the urban population were predominantly tolerant and secular, large sections of the rural population belonged to an orthodox or even fundamental Lutheranism (Knutsen, 2004: 81). The church-state conflict was especially crystallized by the secularisation and the question whether the church or the state should be in charge of education. The fact that Denmark became a secular state and that the Danish Christian People’s Party – albeit represented in the current parliament – is not part of the five-party-model, shows to a certain degree the declining impact of religious cleavages.

Turning to the Industrial Revolution at the end of the early 19th century, deeply rooted conflicts emerged during the growing world trade between land and industry on the one hand, and between owner and worker on the other. While the peasants were demanding certain “tariff levels of agricultural products” in order to survive, the entrepreneurs were struggling for the “freedom of industrial enterprise” (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967: 47). The other cleavage originated between owners and workers on the one hand and tenants, labourers, and workers on the other. Essentially, this social class cleavage represents the conflict between the rich (the ‘haves’) and poor (the ‘have-nots’). The land-industry and owner-worker cleavage have caused the formation of three major parties – the Conservatives of the right, the Liberals between right and centre, and the Social Democrats as a classical working-class party of the left – which have become the most important parties in Denmark.

Generally, it can be said that among these four cleavages the conflict between ‘work and capital’ have had the highest ‘clash potential’ in Denmark.

2.2 The Danish ‘Landslide Election’ 1973

According to Lipset and Rokkan, cleavages have determined the emergence and the content of all European parties and they are therefore an explanatory power for voting attitudes. They argued that the party systems in western democracies of the 1960s reflect the cleavage structures of the 1920s. This approach became known as the ‘Freezing’ theory, meaning that cleavages are a constant in party choice (Kriesi, 1998: 165).

Concerning to the Danish party system, Lipset and Rokkan were right to some extent: From the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1970s, the support for political parties in Denmark was mainly influenced by social class cleavages. The Danish party system distinguished itself particularly through the continuity and stability of a few political parties: the Social Democrats, the Liberals, the Radical Liberals and the Conservatives. The role of smaller, less-established parties – the Communist Party and Justice Party – was marginal. The combined parliamentarian strength of the four old parties never dropped below 85 percent of the seats in the Danish parliament (Pedersen, 1997: 4). Above all, they were divided into two different and ideologically contrasting blocks: the socialist block (The Left) and the non-socialist block (The Right). The traditional left-right polarization was crystallized by the competition between the strong Social Democrats favoring “a strong state, the redistribution of wealth through taxation, equality of opportunities, social security and a wide reaching, universal welfare”. On the other hand, the Conservatives were traditionally defending “the private sector interests and general freedom of individuals and business from economic inference of the state” (Heidar, 2004: 41).

The year 1974 is often seen as a significant turning point in the Danish party system. As a consequence of economic problems such as the first oil crisis and higher unemployment rates, the ‘Landslide Election’ challenged the Danish party system. It was a “protest election” (Jørgensen, 2002: 39) when three new parties – the right-wing Progress Party, the Christian People's Party and Center Democrats – suddenly entered the Danish Folketinget as the two old parties – the Communist Party and Justice Party – returned from long absences to take up their seats in the parliament. Thus, the support of the two-block parties declined from 93 to 64 per cent.

In retrospect, the Danish ‘Landslide Election’ was rather a ‘temporary’ than a ‘persistent’ change in Folketinget. The established parties recovered from their trauma very soon. Only ten years later, the Social Democrats and Liberals recovered a 67 percent of representation in the parliament, and 75 percent in 1994. However, the ‘Landslide Election’ produced a highly fragmentation until the present day (between 8-11 parties) and therefore, a political multidimensionality was caused by the weakening of partisan allegiance (Einhorn and Logue, 2003: 113). The shifts of support between parties (volatility) have become very high; in average one out of three electors has balloted for a different party than the election before (Arter, 1999: 125).

Especially with respect to the volatility, one can argue that the ‘Earthquake Elections’ have shown a first break in the traditional left-right polarization which cannot be explained by the cleavage theory of Lipset and Rokkan.

3. New Cleavages in Denmark

3.1 The ‘New Left’ and ‘New Right’

The cleavage theory of Lipset and Rokkan has lead to many discussions among scholars over the last 30 years, especially in the means of de-alignment and re-alignment. While de-alignment implies that the impact of cleavages becomes smaller, re-alignment means that old cleavages are overlaid through the rise of new ones (Knutsen, 2004: 81). By following the words of Franklin one can argue that new cleavages had become “the driving force behind electoral change” (van der Ejk, Franklin, Mackie and Henry, 1992: 406). Furthermore, the ‘old’ left-right-polarization loses its potency, whereas the complexity of cleavages has grown. In fact, as an advanced industry and modern welfare state, Denmark has undergone large social and economic changes since the post-war era after World War II. In the wake of prosperity and security, traditional cleavages, such as struggles between rural and urban areas have been weakened or diminished. Other conflicts, for instance the on between church and state, have had only a marginal importance in the Danish case, which underlines the de-alignment theory. Social change in Denmark was characterized by “the mass education, the reduction of agriculture to a minor occupation, and the emergence of the service society” which have caused a shift in party preferences (Ole Borre, 1992: 147).

The working-class and parts of the agriculture sector are obviously disappearing in Denmark and most parts of the workers do not “struggle to maintain a subsistence income” (Knutsen, 1998: 3) anymore. Instead, what we can observe now is the so-called ‘embourgeoisement’ of the working class. This means that a large sector of working-class population has been moving to the ‘new middle-class’. This phenomenon is caused not only by higher rewards and but also in terms of home ownership. Normally, we expect that members of the middle-class and those in occupations of high class status tend to show preferences for non-socialistic parties because of their superior market position, but this tendency has indeed changed. Socialist parties receive more support from the ‘New Left’ which is mainly composed of a larger number of better-educated public employees and especially women who represent new values. On the other hand, a feeling of class solidarity among the workers is decreasing. Nowadays, a part of the less-educated, ordinary workers and farmers – together forming the ‘New Right’ – tend more to tax-reducing parties, like the Conservatives or Danish People’s Party, than to radical socialist parties. While the proportion of workers in the Danish People’s Party has increased during the last years from 49 (1998) to 56 (2001) per cent, the working class supporting Socialist parties in Denmark has declined dramatically – over a long period – from 81 (1966) to 41 (2001) per cent.

Otherwise, as Goul Andersen emphasizes, a ‘general’ decline of class voting is misleading and too “exaggerated” (Goul Andersen, 1992: 91). Farmers and other self-employed, latter because of tax advantages, have always remained loyal towards right(-wing) parties. What we can observe is not a general decline, but rather a decrease in the traditional working-class support for socialist parties.

In the next two chapters we focus on new structural cleavages, sector employment and gender, followed by new value orientations and issues – the so-called ‘New Politics’ – in order to show a deep correlation between new structural or value positions and party choices.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
504 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Social Science - Department of Political Science
Rise Cleavages Impact Voting Choices Denmark



Title: The Rise of New Cleavages and their Impact on Voting Choices in Denmark