Changing Context, Changing Cohorts? An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis of Urban-Rural Differences in Switzerland

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 11:30



Authors – Lukas Haffert, Reto Mitteregger.

Abstract :

Conflicts about “place” are increasingly shaping the politics of advanced democracies. However, there has so far been relatively little attention to the age dimension of these conflicts. While recent contributions suggest that younger voters are more strongly divided by place than older voters, these analyses cannot distinguish whether this is a life-cycle or a cohort effect.

However, this is an extremely important question if we think about the future development of this conflict. If the urban-rural age gradient is purely due to a life-cycle effect, place-based differences will decline as people get older. Hence, generational replacement will not lead to an intensification of this divide on a societal level. If it is a cohort effect, by contrast, the conflict will become ever more important, as older generations with weak urban-rural differences are replaced by younger generations that are strongly polarized along this divide.

To answer this question, our study combines 25 years of post-election survey data from Switzerland with macro data on the community level, to examine the role of different cohorts in the urban-rural divide using Age-Period-Cohort logistic regression. We find that the role of place is stronger for more recent cohorts, with more recently socialized urbanites holding more progressive attitudes on socio-cultural issues and preferring left-wing parties compared to earlier urban cohorts. There is a mirror image for the far-right SVP, with more recently socialized urbanites being less likely to vote for the far-right than their older “neighbors”. The results help to understand the role of generational replacement in explaining the growing differences between urban and rural citizens in Western Europe.

These results suggest that the urban-rural divide is likely to become more important over time. Since the APC analysis demonstrates the importance of cohort effects, and since there is ample evidence that people’s understanding of politics remains structured by the cleavages that they internalized during their process of politicization, the urban-rural divide is unlikely to fade from people’s minds when they get older. As a consequence, cohorts in which this divide did not play a major role will increasingly be replaced by cohorts that interpret politics through the lens of this conflict. This increases the incentives for parties and other political actors to also actively engage this divide on the supply side of politics.