The linkage between voters and political parties is to some degree based on stable social cleavages. Such cleavages express important and lasting societal divisions, allow parties and voters to establish long-term ties, and provide incumbents with clear representative and policy-making tasks against which they can be evaluated. Most research on cleavages has been based on the classic cleavages that were outlined in the Lipset-Rokkan model for social cleavages in industrial societies. These are:
(1) the center–periphery cleavage, which is anchored in geographical regions and related to different ethnic and linguistic groups as well as religious minorities; (2) the religious conflict between the Church and the State, which pitted the secular state against the historical privileges of the churches; this cleavage has more recently polarized the religious section against the secular section of the population; (3) the class conflict in the labor market, which involved owners and employers versus tenants, laborers, and workers; and (4) the conflict in the commodity market between buyers and sellers of agricultural products, or more generally, between the urban and the rural population.
Other social cleavages, such as gender, educational differences, and new divisions within the large new middle class, have been focused upon during the last decades. The new divisions within the new middle class are “horizontal” conflicts and can be conceptualized as a basic conflict between public and private employees, and as an alternative way of conceptualization, between those who work within technical, organizational, or interpersonal service environments.
Some of the cleavages have declined in importance over time, while others have increased. Some cleavages have changed character such as the class cleavage where part of the new middle class has voted for the New Left and part of the working class has voted for the New Right in the last decades. Changes in the impact and character of different cleavages have resulted in strategic reconsideration of important policies and changing location of the parties in the political space.