Occupational Unemployment and Party Choice

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Paul MARX, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
There is a growing literature linking labour-market precariousness and political preferences. Occupational unemployment rate (OUR) has become an important variable. It is used as an indicator of labour-market risk and is argued to foster support for redistribution and left parties. While this argument appears straightforward, there is little reflection on potential theoretical and methodological drawbacks of using OUR as a predictor of political preferences. In the proposed article, I identify two such issues.

First, using OUR is based on the assumption that occupations are ‘neutral’ categories for statistical purposes. However, besides differing in their risk profile, occupations provide distinct social settings with an impact on political preferences in their own right. Hence, occupational political culture may bias OUR as a measure of labour-market risk. Second, little consideration is given to the question which model of party choice theoretically links OUR to party preferences. Implicitly, political economy applications draw on the spatial model. However, unemployment is also a key variable in studies of economic (performance) voting and recently OUR has indeed been used to predict economic voting. Reconciling political economy and economic voting theories, I argue that OUR can be linked to at least two motives: punishing the government and supporting redistribution. Both motives can reinforce each other (if the right is in power) or cancel each other out (if the left is in power).

The two issues can be addressed by using panel data, which allow a) eliminating unobserved heterogeneity and b) tracing respondents’ party preferences over electoral contexts (left or right incumbency). I therefore use data from the British Household Panel Survey (1993-2008) and fixed-effect logistic regression to study how within-case variation in OUR affects support for Labour or economic voting (against incumbent). External validity of the findings is assessed with comparative data from the European Social Survey.