Bringing Geography In
The core of this book's argument is that incorporating geography—as a synonym for 'place' not as an academic discipline—to the generally used models is central to understanding British voting patterns. Most voting behaviour models are based on a compositional approach, arguing that electors' choice of party or candidate is predominantly influenced by either their position within society or their personal evaluations of the contemporary political-economic situation: the sociological and responsive voter models discussed in the previous chapter exemplify this approach. Our argument here stresses a contextual approach,1 according to which people making voting decisions are influenced by elements of the milieux within which their daily lives are engaged. Some of those influences may not be directly linked to the intimate geography of their lives, such as the newspapers they choose to read and the radio and TV channels they tune in to, which are national in their coverage. But many are: the people they talk to about political issues, the organizations that they join which have political purposes, their responses to changes in the local economy—these and many more are place-based, so that where they live (their personal geographies) can have a strong impact, may even be the major influence, on their political and electoral choices.
The contextual approach is not presented as an alternative to the compositional one, however. The two are complementary, interacting in a great variety of ways. Thus, for example, we may argue that people occupying particular positions within society are likely to choose one party over another (working-class people preferring Labour, for example), but that tendency is stronger in some places than others because of the impact of local milieux on the development of class consciousness and its relationship to political ideologies. In this way, geography becomes part of the core models—sociological and responsive voter—that are the basis of most analyses of voting patterns.
The incorporation of geography within the basic models avoids treating it as what Agnew (1990, 18) terms 'epiphenomenal', whereby geographical variations in voting decisions are seen as the 'outcome of [deeper] national or global economic or political processes', which have not been directly
1 On the compositional and contextual approaches, see Thrift's (1983) pioneering essay.