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Durham University

Centre for Institutions and Political Behaviour

Current Projects

Causes and Consequences of Electoral Violence: Evidence from England and Wales 1832-1914

Electoral violence plagues the modern world, but it is not a new phenomenon. Violence and intimidation were a common part of early elections in many now established democracies. This ESRC and AHRC funded project will use new detailed data to examine electoral violence in England and Wales from its peak after the Great Reform Act (1832) until it disappeared before the Great War (1914). Based on the exceptionally detailed historical records available for Britain (1832-1914), Patrick M Kuhn (PI, Durham), Gidon Cohen (Co-I, Durham) and Nick Vivyan (Co-I, Durham) aim to provide new answers to some of the most challenging questions about what leads to electoral violence, and about its effects. Our findings will be useful not just to historians but contemporary scholars of election violence and practitioners seeking to tackle this problem.

Most existing research focuses on modern-day emerging democracies. So why study an historical case to learn about what drives electoral violence? First, electoral violence was successfully eliminated in Britain. This allows us to examine the factors that led to its demise, which is not possible in contemporary cases where electoral violence tends to persist. Second, we are able to look at a period of nearly one century and 20 general elections. In contrast to contemporary studies - which have time-spans of about twenty to thirty years - this enables us to disentangle short-, medium- and long-term trends in electoral violence. Finally, the available data on election violence and other variables of interest in England and Wales during this time period are exceptionally good, especially when compared to contemporary cases. This will allow us to implement cutting-edge research designs by tracing a large number of individuals' voting histories over multiple elections and correlate this with incidents of violence, along with various background characteristics (e.g., age, education, income, employment etc.) to study the micro-dynamics of electoral violence and see how violence effects voting behaviour over time and across multiple elections.

Our project will also revise existing historical understandings of nineteenth-century Britain. We will provide a new contextual account of election violence, providing a much more careful and geographically specific periodization of election violence. We will address major historical debates about the adequacy of cultural explanations of election violence by examining whether such violence was primarily used strategically by politicians, or whether, as most contemporary historians have argued, that it was an unfortunate part of the carnival atmosphere of elections in the Victorian period.

For more information visit the project website or follow us on Twitter @VictorianEV_UK

Turnout Misreporting and Sensitive Survey Techniques

Survey researchers often face the problem that respondents are unwilling to admit to sensitive attitudes or behaviours, and therefore misreport when answering questions on such topics. This hampers our ability as social scientists to measure and analyse the determinants of important attitudes and behaviours. Focusing on election turnout as a sensitive topic prone to survey misreporting, Patrick M Kuhn and Nick Vivyan are running a series of survey experiments (funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant and a grant from the Faculty of Social Science and Health at Durham University) in the UK and New Zealand (as part of the New Zealand National Election Study) which allow them to evaluate new and existing 'sensitive survey techniques' aimed at reducing survey misreporting. A number of our survey experiments are accompanied by vote validation exercises, where we check the actual turnout behaviour of survey respondents using official records. We develop new methods to more effectively utilise these 'true' measures of respondent turnout when validating turnout measures obtained from sensitive survey techniques such as list experiments and randomised response techniques.

Seeking the Personal Vote: How Legislators Exploit the Party Line

The goal of the project is to produce new evidence on how legislators navigate and justify pressures resulting from their own conscience, the position of their party leadership, and constituency opinion. The research project uses an experimental approach to answer this question. The research design will be presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago in April 2018. We have run a pilot study in Spring/Summer 2017. The actual experiment will start in fall 2017.

The project involves researchers at four different institutions aside from Durham University: the University of Nottingham, King's College London, the University of Northumbria, and the University of Zurich. Drs. Gidon Cohen, Patrick M Kuhn, Neil Visalvanich, and Nick Vivyan are involved on the Durham side. The project is supported by a British Academy Small Grant (PI: Kyriaki Nanou, University of Nottingham).