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Social identities and political cleavages: the role of political context


Robert Andersen, Department of Sociology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5C2, Canada.


Summary. Using a novel method, the paper investigates the influence of social group identities on attitudes and on voting in a variety of political contexts. Examining the major regions of Britain, Canada and the USA, we find considerable national and regional diversity in the nature of social cleavages. For example, social class and race had widely different effects across societies, but within societies their effects on attitudes and on voting were very similar. However, despite that, age and religion had a similar effect on attitudes across societies; the effects on voting varied considerably. The significant within-country differences underline the importance of using region, rather than country, as the unit of analysis. More importantly, these results highlight the role of political context, especially competing cleavages and the structure of party competition, in the establishment of politically relevant social cleavages.