Does income matter for vote intention? In this post, Alexandre Afonso looks into the relationships between income, education, redistribution, and vote intention in the context of the forthcoming election. He shows that Labour’s support is stable across most of the income distribution, and that Conservative support peaks amongst those with higher incomes. Additionally, while a majority of Conservatives voters oppose the idea of redistribution, a majority of other voters are in favour.

Political parties like to present themselves as universal, and their policies as benefitting everyone. In a recent interview, David Cameron said that the Conservative party was not “the party of the rich”, and that what he cared about was “the people at the bottom”. On the other side, Ed Miliband’s “One Nation economy” speech delivered last year tried to convey the idea that the Labour party was the party of everyone, rich and poor.

Is it really true, as some argue, that income and class no longer matters in politics? To find out, I have used data from the last wave of the British Election Study (Wave 4, March 2015) to disaggregate voting intentions by income categories. It is clear that people with different levels of income display different voting behaviours. However, it plays out differently for different political parties. While Labour support stays relatively stable across income groups but drops among the rich, Tory support steadily increases with income.

Figure 1 shows party support by yearly gross household income independently of the size of each income category within the electorate. This means that it emphasises the voting behaviour of higher incomes because these tend to contain much fewer people (according to ONS data, the median income was 21’000 GBP). The graph shows clearly that higher income groups are much more likely to support the Conservatives, while Labour support is at very low levels. Hence, 65% of people living in households with an income above 150’000 GBP a year intend to vote for the Tories, while only 17% plan to vote Labour.


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.

However, the graph above does not really give a clear idea of the size of the different categories in the electorate. In Figure 2, I have divided respondents in 5 quintiles of relatively similar sizes based on yearly household income. Here again, differences across income groups appear clearly. However, the evolution plays out differently for the two largest parties. Tory support goes up steadily as household income increases. In fact, it differs by 20% between the first and the fifth quintile. In contrast, Labour support stays relatively stable in the four first quintiles, and drops in the fifth quintile (households with an income of more than 50’000 GBP a year). This means that the socio-economic base of Labour support is more spread out than that of the Tories, who rely more heavily on higher incomes.

Like other centre-left parties in Europe, Labour has moved away from its original working-class base and attracted increasing numbers of “socio-cultural” specialists, especially in the public sector. The conservative party, by contrast, has faced fierce competition from UKIP for former “working class Tories”, and it is clearly more polarising across income classes. UKIP support also declines as household income increases; its highest score is within the first quintile (people living in households with an income of less than 15’000 GBP a year).


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.

Education is another important element of class which influences party choice, even if shapes voting intention to a lesser extent than income. In Figure 3, I have plotted voting intentions by the age at which respondents left education. Findings here provide a slightly different picture than income. Labour does well with people who left school early, but also with people who left education late, most of the time after attending university. This corresponds to the dual social base “working class – socio-cultural professionals” mentioned above. By contrast, Conservatives do better among people that left school in-between, especially those with a technical or professional degree.

For UKIP, however, education seems to have a much larger impact. The later people left education, the less they tend to support UKIP. One striking element is the level of support for the Greens among people still in education (university students). The Greens stand at 15% among people still in education, who also tend to vote less. This finding is also supported by high Green scores among people living in households with an income of less than 10’000 GBP a year, where students are overrepresented.


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.

How do people’s income shape attitudes towards government policies, such as public spending cuts and redistribution? In the last two graphs, I have plotted attitudes towards spending cuts (Figure 4) and redistribution (Figure 5) by quintile. Here again, variation is fairly clear: as income increases, opposition to cuts and support for redistribution diminish clearly. However, what is surprising is that even people in the fifth quintile show a great deal of support for redistribution, and the proportion of people who think the cuts have gone too far is still at 42% in the highest income quintile.


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.

Finally, figure 6 shows attitudes towards redistribution by voting intention. What is striking in the graph is the difference between Tory voters and all other voters. While a majority of Tory voters oppose the idea of redistribution, the larger part of voters of all other parties support it. This is especially interesting regarding UKIP, who champions a low tax, small state economic agenda while its voters are actually fairly favourable to redistribution, in line with their lower average income.


For an interactive version of this graph, click here.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the General Election blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.

About the Author

afonsoAlexandre Afonso is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London.


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