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  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2020

Social Democratic Parties and the Working Class

New Voting Patterns

Palgrave Macmillan


  • Discusses the concept of a 'working-class party' identifying four types of electoral coalitions

  • Based on Oesch’s class schema, which captures core electorate of social democracy but also new potential constituencies

Part of the book series: Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century (CDC)

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (6 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-xvii
  2. Introduction

    • Line Rennwald
    Pages 1-13Open Access
  3. A Reflection on Classes; a Reflection on Parties

    • Line Rennwald
    Pages 15-31Open Access
  4. Back Matter

    Pages 103-111

About this book

This open access book carefully explores the relationship between social democracy and its working-class electorate in Western Europe. Relying on different indicators, it demonstrates an important transformation in the class basis of social democracy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the working-class vote is strongly fragmented and social democratic parties face competition on multiple fronts for their core electorate – and not only from radical right parties. Starting from a reflection on ‘working-class parties’ and using a sophisticated class schema, the book paints a nuanced and diversified picture of the trajectory of social democracy that goes beyond a simple shift from working-class to middle-class parties. Following a detailed description, the book reviews possible explanations of workers' new voting patterns and emphasizes the crucial changes in parties' ideologies. It closes with a discussion on the role of the working class in social democracy's future electoral strategies.


  • Open Access
  • social democracy
  • electoral behaviour
  • voting behaviour
  • working class electorate
  • labour movement
  • class mobilisation
  • working class party
  • party politics
  • industrial relations
  • social classes and stratification
  • electoral strategies
  • immigration
  • service workers
  • radical left parties
  • radical right parties
  • European politics


“This wide-ranging and thought-provoking book addresses a central issue that is both old and new in the politics of western democracies: the nature of the working class and its relationship to the political parties that typically provide its democratic representation. In her clearly-written, appealingly concise and none the less nuanced study of six countries over four decades, Line Rennwald considers how best to understand the contemporary multi-faceted working class and the strategies of social democratic parties. She elaborates on the insights of the notion of class developed by Daniel Oesch and on the benefits for representation of seeing a working class that stretches beyond traditional manual workers and includes areas of the growing service sector. In the face of rising working class support for parties on the radical right in recent years, Rennwald argues that a broad working class alliance with social democratic parties that have integrated socio-economic and cultural programmes can instead provide a more appealing and effective role for the working class in contemporary politics.” (Geoffrey Evans, University of Oxford, UK)

“Why is social democracy in crisis? How has it lost its working class voters? Can it win them back? The answers are all in Line Rennwald’s book. A brilliant contribution to the study of class politics, theoretically driven, empirically robust, questioning the strategy of European social democratic parties in the last thirty years. Political supply is the main factor. A must-read in a context of thriving populism and growing abstention.” (Nonna Mayer, Sciences Po/CNRS, France)

“If you have ever wondered why social democracy has lost working-class support, look no further than this book: Line Rennwald delves into four decades of electoral surveys and shows the reasons behind this dealignment. A tour de force of political analysis.” (Daniel Oesch, University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

“This timely and important book offers a welcome and well executed re-emphasising of class based analysis in party political research. Its analysis invites reconsideration of how we understand the working class and their relationship to social democracy. It is a well-structured and clearly focused intervention in debates about the politics and sociology of social democracy – offering a novel class schema and applying it a comparative European context. This engaging book will make for a valuable addition to the comparative politics of social democracy / electoral behaviour canon, helping scholars make sense of novel challenges facing social democratic parties. The changes in class composition of the electorates, party strategies and voting behaviours charted in this book offer one explanation for recent seismic political upheavals. I can see this volume having a long shelf life, of interest to a range of scholars interested in the changing electoral politics of the disaffected poorer and vulnerable groups in society has buffeted most European party systems.” (Ben Clift, University of Warwick, UK)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

    Line Rennwald

About the author

Line Rennwald currently works on the ERC Advanced Grant “Unequal Democracies” at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She previously held post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Amsterdam, the University of Lausanne and the European University Institute.

Bibliographic Information

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)