Traditionally, voters’ class positions have determined their party choices in Western democracies. At the same time, social class has been considered being the most significant political cleavage of which political parties have conventionally emerged in the West-European multi-party systems. Class cleavage has emerged from the industrial revolution based on the labour market confrontation between workers and owners. The cleavage has been so divisive and has resulted in the formation of various political organisations especially at the worker-side. Meanwhile, Labour Unions, Social Democratic (SD) parties and socialist parties were formed.
Since the late 1980s, numerous studies have claimed that voters’ class has become an irrelevant determinant of electoral behaviour. This trend has been related to working-class voters, whose occupational position is regarded becoming gradually a weaker predictor of their voting behaviour than in the past. At the macro level, this weakening trend has been explained by a decline in the relative proportion of the working class.
The share of blue-collar employees has decreased significantly in the past few decades in advanced industrialised democracies. For example, in Finland, the share of blue-collar employees has decreased by almost 20 percentage points from the 1970s to the 2010s. The declines in class voting have been linked to the political parties’ disintegration, reconfiguration of society, and large-scale societal change in the Western world. Globalisation, the rising level of education, unstable working-life conditions, and the ageing population have been the most common societal explanations for the change in the political sphere.
Despite the relative decrease, some previous studies have indicated that the working class is still relevant and has not lost its significance as a determinant of voting behaviour to same extent in the Nordic countries as in other Western democracies in the 21st century. Moreover, the societal change, its consequences, and declining trends in class voting have motivated scholars to consider the subjective approach to voters’ class positions. Typically, scholars who have focused on the subjective approach, i.e., class identification, have considered the declining trend in class voting more carefully.
This study aims to provide new knowledge on the Finnish working class’ voting behaviour, party attachment, and attitudinal orientations from the perspective of class voting in 21st century Finland. It originates from two observations on the Finnish electorate and party system in the 21st century.
The first observation relates to the continued significance of class identification among the Finnish electorate. Considerable majority of eligible voters identify with a specific social class, despite ongoing debates over the decreasing significance of social classes to voting preferences.
The second observation relates to the notable changes, which have occurred in the Finnish party system in the 21st century. A good example of this is a large share of working-class voters who switched from the SDP to the Finns Party in the 2011 parliamentary election. This study integrates these two separate observations together by studying the mechanisms of working-class voting from the perspective of class (in)congruence and voters’ attitudinal orientations. As such, the study discovers how the working-class votes in 21st century Finland.
The research problem is built on analysing working-class voting from the perspective of a two-dimensional approach to voters’ class positions, i.e., class (in)congruence. The study formulates three groups of working-class voters by considering voters’ occupation and class identification.
The first group, the traditional working class, consists of blue-collar employees with working-class identification. The second group, the occupational working class, is blue-collar employees who do not have working-class identification, but they identify with the lower-middle, middle, or upper-middle class. The third group, the ideological working-class, consists of those who are not blue-collar employees by their occupation but have working-class identification. In addition, the study considers the working-class voters’ attitudinal orientations, the significance the previous research has highlighted with regard to determining voting decisions in the 21st century. The datasets used for the analyses are the 2003-2019 Finnish National Elections Studies (FNES).
The first part of the study’s threefold analysis focuses on finding factors that explain class incongruence and congruence among the three working-class groups. The results show that class of the childhood home, the level of education, and spouse’s occupation are the most significant factors that explain both class incongruence and congruence. Above all, working-class childhood home is the most significant factor that explains working-class identification.
The second analysis examines the extent to which three working-class groups differ from each other based on their attitudinal orientations, i.e., the extent that class (in)congruence affects attitudinal orientations. The results show that the three working-class groups differ from each other by their socioeconomic and sociocultural orientations. The ideological working-class is more leftist based on their socioeconomic orientation than the traditional or the occupational working class. In addition, the results show that the occupational working class has a more conservative sociocultural orientation than the traditional and ideological working class. From the outcome of the results, all three working-class groups have more opposing attitudes towards the EU than other voters.
The third analysis combines the previous analyses and examines the extent that party choices among the Finnish working-class voters are influenced by the class (in)congruence and the voters’ attitudinal orientations. Moreover, the last analysis aims to discover the extent the class (in)congruence affects directly working-class voters’ party choice or indirectly via the working-class voters’ attitudinal orientations. The findings indicate that the working-class’ voting patterns are multidimensional and cannot be defined as simple class-party ties in 21st century Finland. The traditional left-wing parties, the SDP, and the Left Alliance, are still parties, to which working-class voters give their votes in general.
The study shows that the party choices of the Finnish working class is determined by their attitudinal orientations. In spite of this, the leftist socioeconomic orientation, which is traditionally linked to working-class voting, is increasingly less common determinant of party choice among the Finnish working class.
The results show that belonging to a particular working-class group and having a particular socioeconomic orientation do not increase the likelihood of voting any of the six parties under study. Instead, there can be distinguished an indirect effect on party choice, which goes via opposing attitudes towards the EU among each working class group. In addition, belonging to the occupational working class has an indirect effect on voting both for the Centre Party and the Finns Party via conservative sociocultural orientation.
Overall, the results indicate that traditional working class voting still occurs in 21st century Finland, but the votes of the working class tend to be shared between several parties. Along with the SDP and the Finns Party, Finnish working-class voters give their votes to the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the Centre Party. One important finding is that the Finns Party is, however, able to compete for the votes of the working class among each of the three working-class groups. The party can gather support from all working-class groups despite their class identification, occupation, or level of education. The findings also show that despite the split of the Finns Party in June 2017, the split fails to reduce the party’s popularity among the working-class voters. Moreover, the EU criticism has moved working-class voters closer to the Finns Party. While the opposing views about the EU have been linked to voting for the other parties as well, the Finns Party has undoubtedly managed to channel particularly these types of votes among the working-class voters.
The findings show that working-class voting still occurs in 21st century Finland revealing that when a comprehensive approach is applied to the voters’ class positions, important knowledge on the patterns and mechanisms of class voting is provided. The study contributes to the vast literature on class voting by applying a two-dimensional approach to voters’ class positions and combining it with the voters’ attitudinal orientations. If one of the three factors—objective class-position, subjective class-position, and attitudinal orientations—is not examined, then the essential mechanisms of class voting remain undiscovered. Future class-voting studies should consider all subjective class indicators, the voter’s occupation, and voters’ attitudinal orientations.
The doctoral dissertation of M. Soc. Sc. Aino Tiihonen in the field of political science titled The Mechanisms of Class-Party Ties among the Finnish Working-Class Voters in the 21st Century will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Management and Business of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 28 January, 2022. Docent Lauri Rapeli from Åbo Akademi University will be the opponent while Professor (tenure-track) Elina Kestilä-Kekkonen will act as the custos.
The event can be followed via remote connection
The dissertation is available online at
Photo: Jonne Renvall