The 'New Cleavage' Thesis and the Social Basis of Radical Right Support

23 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2005

See all articles by Pippa Norris

Pippa Norris

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Sydney

Date Written: February 2005


The rise of the radical right is open to multiple interpretations. The question addressed in this study is whether many of these parties have fostered an enduring social base among core voters and, if so, which social sectors are most likely to support them. Part I discusses the alternative theoretical frameworks provided by the classic accounts of the 1950s and 1960s, the 'new social cleavage' thesis common during the last decade, and the theory of partisan dealignment. The paper then compares evidence to analyze rival hypotheses about the social basis of the radical right vote across fifteen nations, using data drawn from the European Social Survey, 2002 and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, 1996-2001. Part II focuses upon the role of socioeconomic indicators, while Part III considers the enduring gender gap and patterns of generational support. The conclusion considers the implications of these results for understanding the basis of radical right popularity, and for the stability and longevity of these parties.

Keywords: Electoral Politics, Political Science

Suggested Citation

Norris, Pippa, The 'New Cleavage' Thesis and the Social Basis of Radical Right Support (February 2005). KSG Working Paper No. RWP05-015. Available at SSRN: or

Pippa Norris (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1475 (Phone)
617-496-2850 (Fax)

University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NC NSW 2006

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