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Social Cleavages in Politics

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Written by Ikra Cavusoglu

One of the main reasons for extreme conflicts is social cleavages. It has caused a large number of events in history, whether they are logical or not. It is the method people divide into groups by shared traits. These traits are people’s ethnicities, occupations, territory, religion, and so on. In today's world, people reflect their ideologies via political parties by choosing the one that resembles them the most in order to come supremer than the other side. Its members must behave in accordance with their identities, according to Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, who also outlined these characteristics. It needs to be communicated through political parties which they make the base of [Lipset, 1967].

In the USA, there are 2 major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats since the 19th century. The Republicans tend to be more religious than the Democrats. The Public Religion Research Institute, according to the research they conducted, recited “Today, roughly three-quarters (73%) of the Republican Party is white Christian, but fewer than one-third (29%) of the Democratic Party identifies this way” [America’s, 2022]. This is a great example of political cleavage caused by religion and race.

On further levels, social cleavage can be a threat to a nation since it can act as a centrifugal force, a force that splits the society so it would be torn into pieces. These are called Coinciding Cleavages. There are also Cross-cutting Cleavages, which happen when a cleavage divides itself. Religious groups, living both in the city and the rural areas, can be given as an example.

On the other hand, people can embrace each others’ differences with the help of other diverse groups. For the sake of example, a worker can belong to the same ethnicity as a business owner. This would unite them in another method. We call these centripetal forces.

To conclude, social cleavages come along with the people's existence in the political system and create a base for the expression of people’s diverse identities and opinions under the name of political cleavage.

  1. America's changing religious identity. PRRI. (2021, October 14). Retrieved November 1, 2022, from

  2. Lipset, S. M., & Rokkan, S. (1967). Cleavage structures, party systems, and voter alignments: An introduction. The Free Press.


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