Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies - European University Institute

What influences political affiliations? Gender and field of study matter

On 10 November Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks presented recent work on 'The Social Roots of the Transnational Cleavage'.

16/11/2021 | News - Event

Hooghe and Marks uncovered the social bases of voting on the ‘transnational cleavage’, a cosmopolitanism-nationalism divide that is evident in Western democracies, and which underlies the rise of Green and radical right political parties.

In their presentation, Hooghe and Marks linked the rise of these parties to a great transformation that has shaped western society since the 1960s—an information revolution. This technological revolution has produced a highly educated tertiary sector and shifted the organisation of production from national markets to a global scale. The consequences for conflict are arguably no less transformative than the rise of the national state or the industrial revolution in centuries past.

The political effects of the information revolution came in two stages. The first was the growth of knowledge occupations which require skills to produce, use, or handle information. This set the stage for an epochal shift in relations between the sexes, and it prompted the emergence of Green political parties. Because the information revolution opened the door for women to perform as well as men in the university and the labour market, it exposed patriarchism as a target for grievance. Knowledge intensive women were at the core of the Green parties that emerged, initially in Belgium and Germany, and today in most EU countries.

The second phase was the precipitous decline in the cost of communication, which made production chains global and worker mobility transnational. This led to intense conflict over the good and bad of transnationalism, and it prompted the rise of Traditional, Authoritarian, Nationalist (TAN) political parties. Workers performing routine machine tasks, the vast majority men, were in the crosshairs. Semi-skilled manual workers were exceptionally vulnerable to automation and offshoring. And as trade penetration accelerated from the 1990s, they found themselves in direct competition with the vast labour pool of formerly third world countries.

Education, occupation, and sex ground the divide between Green and TAN parties, but to find out how exactly, one needs to zoom in, and match grievances that arose in successive phases of the information revolution to specific social categories. Such a micro-approach reveals that the core of the Green parties consists of educated women in the humanities and social sciences, scientists, designers, and teachers, and the core of the TAN parties consists of male-dominated groups of semi-skilled machine workers, security workers, and extraction workers. These are socially rooted, that is, their life chances are built into ascriptions and choices that are difficult to change over the course of a lifetime. This is consistent with the idea that the transnational conflict is a cleavage: it is durable, not ephemeral.

Gender differences are sharply evident. The information revolution has undermined traditional gender stereotypes. It has shaken the patriarchal presumption of privilege in the workplace, the family, and in the wider society. It has offered women the prospect of social, economic, and political equality while magnifying the distance between the ideal and the reality. The political consequences are most visible where economic forces and cultural grievance coincide. Women in knowledge-intensive occupations are at the cutting edge of the rise of Green political parties; men vulnerable to automation, offshoring, and trade penetration are the core of TAN political parties.

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