English title: What does Suburbia Vote for? Changed Settlement Patterns and Political Preference in Three European Countries

Author(s): Maarit Felicitas Ströbele -

Language: English

Type: Thesis / dissertation

Year: 2013


Is there such a thing as suburban political preference in Western Europe, and if so, how is this related to political cleavages associated with geographically bound interests? What is the role of the classic urban-rural cleavage today? To answer these questions, the dissertation combines approaches from urban geography and political science to explain how the political preferences between core city and suburban voters differ in a cross-national comparative perspective. Suburbanisation has radically changed the European landscape in the 20th century: A significant share of the population now lives in places that could be defined as sub-urbs instead of inner cities, small towns and villages, or the countryside. However, when it comes to questions concerning the built environment and the political sphere, a large part of political research only distinguishes between urban and rural, even though metropolitan regions now include a multitude of different places with their own characteristics and associated political beliefs and interests. Urban-suburban divergences in political preference are examined considering the close relationship between the built environment and patterns of daily life. The dissertation incorporates the idea of the social construction of spaces into an explana-tion of suburban electoral preferences. The study demonstrates that urban-suburban divergences are substantially based on diverging patterns of daily use of spaces, as well as to different lifestyles within the middle class. Two key aspects are relevant: the family pattern and the use of public services. First, family patterns are clearly related to the building density of the place of residence. It is postulated that in less densely constructed and populated municipalities, the organisation of daily life is easier in a breadwinner-housekeeper pattern, which is in turn linked to conservative political preferences. Second, urban inhabitants tend to rely more on public services than suburbanites, while right-wing conservative parties tend to favour the limitation of public services. The hypotheses are examined in three country case studies (Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland) that begin with an overview of the national histories of suburbanisation, showing how suburbanisation and metropolitanisation are related to political discourses and policy-making. In a second step, statistical analyses take into account different aspects of suburban and urban inhabitants’ daily life routine related to the use public services as well as to the family pattern. The findings of the statistical analyses are interpreted in relation to the history of suburbanisation and evidence that political preferences are indeed related to daily life and the place of residence. The analyses mostly result in a suburban tendency towards the conservative side of the political spectrum as compared to inner city inhabitants, and show that suburban political preference patterns are closer to rural than to core city patterns. In a further context, the study aims to broaden the understanding of political cleavages in European democracies, particularly the urban-rural cleavage, highlighting the relationship between one of the largest changes in the European landscape over the 20th century and the inhabitants’ political preferences.


Awarding institution: European University Institute

Number of pages: 314

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