9 mars 2021
Ecrit par WID.world

Political Cleavages in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland

Party System Transformation and the Structure of Political Cleavages in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, 1967-2019 


In this paper, Carmen Durrer de la Sota, Amory Gethin and Clara Martínez-Toledano combine post-electoral surveys to study the evolution of political cleavages in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland over the last five decades. The weakening of historical cleavages, the emergence of new political formations (i.e. Green parties on the left and anti-immigration parties on the right), and the rise of new divides have significantly transformed these four countries’ party systems since the 1980s. Support for green and left-wing parties among highest-educated voters, and for anti-immigration parties among the lower educated has grown, while top-income earners have remained more supportive of the traditional right. The rise of new green and anti-immigration parties, but also changes within old parties, have thus led to the emergence of “multi-elite party systems” comparable to those found in the majority of other Western democracies.


Key Findings

  • Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland have undergone major political changes in the past decades, associated with the decline of traditional Christian democratic, socialist, and social democratic parties, and the concomitant rise of green and anti-immigration movements.
  • This evolution has been most radical in Switzerland, where the far right (the Swiss People’s Party) and the greens (the Green Party and the Green Liberal Party) now top the polls.
  • This transformation has led to the emergence of “multi-elite party systems” in these four democracies: top-income voters have remained more supportive of conservative parties, while higher-educated voters have increasingly voted for left-wing and liberal parties.
  • Class cleavages remain stronger in Belgium, where the left continues to receive significant support from low-income and lower-educated voters in Wallonia. They are weakest in Switzerland, where not only green movements, but also traditional left-wing parties have gradually reoriented towards the most educated sections of the electorate.


Figure: Election results in Switzerland, 1947-2019


Election results in Switzerland, World Inequality Lab

The figure shows the share of votes received by selected political parties or groups of parties in federal elections held in Switzerland between 1947 and 2019. Far-right parties received 26% of votes in 2019.




  • Carmen Durrer de la Sota (World Inequality Lab): carmen.durrerdelasota@sciencespo.fr
  • Amory Gethin (Paris School of Economics, World Inequality Lab): Amory.gethin@psemail.eu
  • Clara Martínez-Toledano (Imperial College, World Inequality Lab): c.martinez-toledano@imperial.ac.uk

Media inquiries

Olivia Ronsain: olivia.ronsain@wid.world; +33 7 63 91 81 68



The authors are grateful to Gabriel Gazeau and Thomas Piketty for their useful advices.