Working paper
Open access

Brahmin left versus merchant right. How useful is this distinction for the analysis of political divides in Western democracies?

Number of pages22
  • Political Economy Working Papers
First online date2022-02-21

The main objective of the paper is to investigate differences in individual support for political parties (left/right and specific parties) and to connect them to differences in support for various socioeconomic issues, such as redistribution, unemployment benefits, the perception of the level in inequality, immigration/globalisation and education spending. We use a large survey dataset from different International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) waves from 1985 to 2019 in 11 OECD countries. In the line of Amable and Darcillon (2021) who used a pooled sample of 20 OECD countries, we now focus on the country-specific characteristics of the support for the previous issues. Our results show that the transformation of the left-right divide into a competition between a brahmin left and a merchant right has not taken place everywhere. In many countries, the left has kept a popular support, even if there are some brahmin elements found in the broad left, mostly expressed through Green parties. Then, the policy preferences exhibit some common characteristics across countries. Unsurprisingly, the preference for redistribution is always negatively associated with higher income levels, except in Norway. Education often exerts a negative influence, sometimes for individuals with relatively modest income levels, which may point to the existence of an aspiration to upward social mobility. The preferences concerning more precise redistribution-related policies are more diverse according to the country considered. Some opinions (the tolerance towards inequality) or expenditures (unemployment benefits) are clearly regarded as pure redistribution and the expression of the preferences are parallel to those regarding the broad issue of redistribution. Other expenditures (education) are sometimes seen as a social investment and may be favoured by individuals with high income and education levels. Finally, immigration-related issues are usually taken the most obvious indicator of the possible existence of a brahmin left. In most, but not all, cases examined, education is indeed related with a positive opinion on immigration, whether it is considered good for the economy or not the cause of job substitution at the expense of the nationals.

  • Political cleavages
  • Policy preferences
  • Political economy
  • Brahmin left
  • Merchant right
  • JEL : D72
Citation (ISO format)
AMABLE, Bruno, DARCILLON, Thibault. Brahmin left versus merchant right. How useful is this distinction for the analysis of political divides in Western democracies? 2022
Main files (1)
Working paper
Secondary files (1)
  • PID : unige:159102

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