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Abstract

It is proposed that perceptions of powerlessness influence attitudes towards political policies and ideologies, and that these attitudes influence levels of support for political parties. A cross-sectional survey analysis of the relations between social class, powerlessness, ideology, and party preference supports this contention. However, the role of powerlessness in influencing the appeal of political attitudes is found to be conditional on respondents' social class. For middle class respondents, powerlessness is associated with opposition to economic redistribution, whereas for the working class it is associated with pro-redistributive attitudes. For respondents in all classes, powerlessness is associated with authoritarian beliefs, but these are only of relevance for the partisanship of respondents in the middle class. As a consequence of this pattern of relationships, powerlessness is associated with political polarization between social classes, which takes the form of increased support for the Conservative party in the middle class and increased support for the Labour party in the working class. Apart from their substantive implications these findings illustrate the importance of social structural characteristics in conditioning the relationships between social psychological variables.