Simon Bornschier, Lukas Haffert, Silja Häusermann, Marco Steenbergen and Delia Zollinger. Paper presented at the European Political Science Association (EPSA) Virtual Conference, 24-25 June 2021.
Western Europe is experiencing growing levels of political polarization between parties of the New Left and the Far Right. In many countries, the socio-structural foundations of this divide (class, education, residence) are by now so clear that many interpret this divide as a fully mobilized new electoral cleavage. However, cleavage formation also requires processes of social closure and col- lective identity-formation: shared group identities are the “glue” of cleavage formation, as they translate grievances into political antagonisms. This translation is far from straightforward, as it depends on both bottom-up and top-down driven processes of group boundary-drawing, social closure and political mobilization. In this paper, we ask how far the processes of electoral cleavage formation have progressed, studying both countries of early (Switzerland, France) and more recent partisan realignment (Germany, UK). Our contribution relies on data from an original online survey fielded in these four countries. Re- spondents answered questions on their sense of belonging to a series of social groups, electoral preferences and socio-demographics. On this basis, we are able to show – observationally – that socio-structural categories relate to both socio-economically (e.g. class) and socio-culturally (e.g. cosmopolitanism, lifestyle) connoted group identities, which divide New Left and Far Right voters. We then study the extent of social closure and political mobilization at the extremes of the new divide through the analysis of social networks, perceived group alignments, perceived representa- tion, and preference variance. Our findings so far suggest that the new conflict is firmly rooted in socio-economic categories and at the societal level. Its political mobilization happens mostly via culturally connoted identities. While social realignments and closure are highly similar across the four countries, cleavage formation in terms of partisan political mobilization is further advanced in Switzerland and France than in Germany and the UK.