This paper examines the post-financial crisis decline in the electoral success of social democratic parties. It argues that two core shifts in the economy have put pressure on social democratic economic policy: social, economic and geographic sorting by high productivity workers in a context of increasing stagnation created by declining birth rates and generic economic slowdown, have created sharper tradeoffs between skill groups and geographic areas. This sorting has a well-known geographic component, with high-skilled work increasingly concentrated in cities, and a social component, as high productivity workers not only co-locate, but make social choices (schooling, marriage) that are increasingly homogamous. This paper argues that these two features of the contemporary economic structure create (yet another ) set of tradeoffs for social democrats aiming to create an electoral coalition around equity producing policy. While Kitschelt’s (1994) seminal contribution theorized the divergence of class based preferences in part through the lens of increasing productivity divergence across firms, increasing geographic and social sorting next to diverging paths of stagnation hardens these tradeoffs, by increasingly creating not just a social conflict - but also an economic conflict - between new urban voters and suburban and rural voters. The paper develops these arguments theoretically, showing that growing geographic divergence matters for electoral outcomes, even in proportional electoral systems. It then shows that these changes create regional and skill based tradeoffs for social democratic parties in terms of their competitive stances. It tests these propositions using fine grained electoral data in 20 countries, and an analysis of thirty years of combined individual level election studies in 16 countries.
Jane Gingrich is a professor of comparative political economy in the department of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses broadly on the politics of education and welfare policies, examining the politics of shifting policy in response to changing economic and political alignments. She is the PI of the ERC research project SCHOOLPOL, and is completing a book length project on social democratic parties. She is a member of the CIFAR Innovation, Equity and the future of Prosperity working group.