Cleavage: Dividing Voters Into Voting Blocs

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  • 0:04 Cleavage Definition
  • 1:32 Examples
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the political science concept of cleavage, or dividing voters up into voting blocs by considering their social, moral, and economic beliefs, as well as their political ideologies.

Cleavage Definition

When you're with your friends playing basketball or soccer, somehow teams have to be divided. One of the easiest ways to do this is simply by putting the lighter-colored shirts versus the darker-colored shirts. It's a simple method, sure, but it's effective - it chooses teams quickly and also eliminates any possible confusion between team members while the game is being played.

In political science, there are similarly simple but effective ways to divide up voters. These methods are called cleavage. Cleavage refers to dividing potential voters up into groups of like-minded, like-voting individuals.

These voter blocs are created to make campaigning and voter analysis easier. Once voting blocs based on ideological, political, or social issues have been formulated, candidates and campaigns can choose a strategy which best mobilizes their base and attracts the most swing voters in a given election. Cleavage does not oversimplify the voter base; in fact, it functions on the idea of voter diversity.

Cleavage accepts that all voters have different values and beliefs, but assumes that each unique voter, when presented with two or more choices of candidates, will choose whichever party or candidate most resembles their own political position. Political scientists and campaign strategists use cleavage to try to find out the most prevalent dividing lines on important issues, so they can then direct their candidate to either make an issue a key component of their campaign or shy away from the issue, depending on the differences or similarities between a candidate and his/her constituency.


Voter blocs can be created through cleavage on virtually just about any issue, though there are some classical examples of broad categories of voter divisions, which are generally accepted in political science circles today. The first of these we will discuss today is owner versus worker. This generally refers to the interests of factory and industrial owners and managers against the interests of the working classes, which make up the vast majority of the labor force.

While owners tend to be a much smaller voting bloc, they also tend to possess far more capital than the more populous worker bloc. Therefore, the ability of the owner bloc to influence elections is often determined by each nation's laws and regulations regarding campaign financing; the more money allowed, the better chance the owner bloc has at influencing the election. By the same token, candidates who can effectively position themselves as champions of the far more populous worker bloc have a much greater chance of success in the election.

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