Why do so many people vote 'unnaturally'? A cultural explanation for voting behaviour

P Achterberg*, D Houtman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


The traditional class approach to politics maintains that the working class 'naturally' votes for left-wing parties because they represent its economic interests. Such traditional voting patterns have, however, become less typical, giving rise to the 'Death of Class Debate' in political sociology. Against this background, using data collected in the Netherlands in 1997, this article examines why so many people, working and middle class alike, vote for parties that do not represent their 'real class interests'. Critically elaborating Lipset's work on working-class authoritarianism and Inglehart's on postmaterialism, the article confirms that 'natural' voting complies with the logic of class analysis. 'Unnatural' voting, however, is not driven by economic cues and class. Right-wing working-class voting behaviour is caused by cultural conservatism that stems from limited cultural capital. The pattern of voting for the two small leftist parties in Dutch politics underscores the significance of this cultural explanation: those with limited cultural capital and culturally conservative values vote for the Socialist Party ('Old Left') rather than the Greens ('New Left'). Breaking the traditional monopoly of the one-sided class approach and using a more eclectic and open theoretical approach enables political sociologists once again to appreciate the explanatory power of the class perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-92
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes




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