This chapter is about two phases in Britain’s post-war electoral history. The 1950s and 1960s are conventionally viewed as an ‘era of alignment’ in which most voters saw themselves as belonging to a particular social class and, in turn, identified with and voted for the party thought to do most for people of that class. Then, from around the beginning of the 1970s, a process of ‘dealignment’ — a weakening of voters’ identifications both with social classes and with parties — quickly gathered pace. Of course, any attempt to divide history into distinct eras — or, for that matter, to divide the electorate into distinct groups — is bound to be an over-simplification. Voters did not wake up on New Year’s Day in 1970 and decide to start dealigning themselves. Change within the electorate is a more gradual and piecemeal process and, as noted in the previous chapter on turnout, is often driven more by generational shifts in the make-up of the electorate than by individual voters changing their attitudes or identities. Indeed, plenty of voters did not change across the two ‘eras’. Significant minorities of voters in the 1950s and 1960s felt no strong class or partisan attachment, while significant minorities today identify strongly with a party. Nonetheless, even if to talk of a change from alignment to dealignment is something of an over-simplification, electoral analysts generally agree that in broad terms it captures the major change in voting behaviour during the period since 1945.
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