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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 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.

We are currently seeking to hire a three-year Postdoctoral Research Associate to work on the project. Details on the position can be found on the Durham Online Recruitment Website. The application deadline is October 26, 2017.

Mitigating Turnout Misreporting in Post-Election Surveys

Why do some people turn out to vote in elections while others do not? This question is fundamental for political scientists seeking to understand the democratic process. Yet we currently lack the accurate survey-based measures of individual level turnout that are necessary to answer it. Post-election surveys routinely over-estimate turnout by large margins, due to a combination of sampling error (where too few non-voters are sampled) and turnout misreporting (where sampled non-voters say that they did in fact vote). In fact, one key preliminary finding of the BPC/MRS Polling Inquiry into the 2015 General Election polls is that the pollsters failed at correctly estimating respondents’ likelihood of voting due to inadequate turnout measures in past post-election surveys.

In a series of survey experiments Patrick M Kuhn and Nick Vivyan have evaluated existing approaches to mitigating misreporting and developed, based on interdisciplinary research on social desirability bias, a new and relatively simple sensitive question technique, which they label ‘contextualisation’. The `contextualised’ question is as effective as existing techniques at reducing aggregate reported turnout across respondents, but is less costly and far more statistically efficient. To show beyond doubt that contextualization results in more accurate turnout reporting they have engaged in a vote validation exercise of their post EU-Referendum survey (funded by a Faculty Booster Grant) and established collaboration with the New Zealand Election Study (NZES) team lead by Prof. Jack Vowles to run a split-sample experiment in the NZES post-election survey, in which respondents actual turnout is validated using official records (funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant).

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 state-of-the-arts methods of causal inference. The research desing will be presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago in April 2017, and are running a pilot study in Spring/Summer 2017. The actual research will start in the 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).