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Durham University

Centre for Institutions and Political Behaviour

Completed Projects

Developing Local Governance in Somalia: An Evaluation

This project is a programme evaluation for the Department for International Development (DFID), run by Gidon Cohen (Durham), Jutta Bakonyi (Durham), Markus Höhne (Leipzig) and Pierre-Olivier Bédard (Durham). Using a mixed methods approach, the project evaluates the impact of community based development projects (implemented in 60 villages in three regions of Puntland and Somaliland) on village institutional capacity and participation by combining population and community leader surveys and qualitative interviews. The findings will not only provide evidence on the program’s effectiveness and a deeper understanding of local governance procedures and perceptions in Somalia but will also yield valuable methodological insights on data collection in this challenging environment. As such, the project will implement rigorous and innovative techniques: a pre-post evaluation with a matched sample of untreated villages, an experiment comparing sampling methods (i.e. randomization using remote sensing of satellite images versus conventional random walk methods) and a survey experiment.

The final report and further details on the project can be found here.

Racial cues not only change the opinions people have, but also the public political actions they take

The use of racially charged imagery and messages has a long history in US politics. But how do such racial cues affect how Americans participate politically beyond holding opinions? In new research, Drs. Hans Hassell (Cornell College) and Neil Visalvanich (Durham University) find that whites are less likely to participate politically when prompted by minority advocacy. They argue because of race’s influence on political motivation, political elites or interest groups could use racial priming to motivate or demotivate public political action, not just change political opinions.

Read me on the LSE US Centre blog or download the Political Behavior paper.

2015 UK Parliamentary Election Forecast

In this project Dr. Nick Vivyan (Durham) together with Dr. Chris Hanretty (East Anglia) and Dr. Benjamin Lauderdale (LSE) uses up-to-date public opinion data and sophisticated statistical techniques to forecast the outcome of the 2015 UK Parliamentary Elections. For further details and the forecasts see the project website:

Key Publications: Hanretty, Chris, Ben Lauderdale and Nick Vivyan 2015. Evaluation of the 2015 General Election Forcast and Hanretty, Chris and Ben Lauderdale and Nick Vivyan 2015. Combining National and Constituency Level Polling for Forcasting. Forthcoming in Electoral Studies.

Estimating Constituency Opinion

This project directed by Dr Nick Vivyan (Durham) and Dr Chris Hanretty (East Anglia) uses a combination of survey and census data to produce the first systematic constituency-specific measures of: public opinion on specific political issues such as the Iraq War or European Union membership; and opinion on over-arching political questions such as the appropriate balance between government taxation and spending or which is the most important issue facing the UK. For further details see the project website:

Key Publications: Forthcoming

Party Activism and Capture-Recapture Methods

This project funded by the ESRC and the AHRC used new statistical methods, developed for the study of elusive biological populations, to examine patterns of activism within Labour and Conservative parties in post-war Britain. The research identified the potential of these methods for a wide range of historical studies. The analysis challenged the view that patterns of activism have been very different from patterns of party membership, showing that activism moved in line with membership, increasing substantially in the post-war period before falling away sharply in the 1960s. In addition the project demonstrated that there a very high turnover of activists and that it was recruitment rather than retention which was the major cause of the decline.

Key Publication: Gidon Cohen, Lewis Mates and Andrew Flinn, 2012. Capture Recapture Methods and Party Activism in Britain, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 43(2).

Background: In recent debates about changing levels of participation some commentators have pointed to the frequent reliance on images of a mythical ‘golden age’ of activism and stress that with limited historical data there ‘is little evidence available to monitor whether trends in party activism have fallen ... in parallel with membership’ (Norris 2002: 111). Multiple recapture techniques have been widely used in scientific and social scientific studies to examine hard to measure populations. The basic idea is that if the population is ‘closed’ then its size can be estimated by looking at the individuals contained in two samples of a population, if the second sample contains largely the same individuals as the first then it is likely that the population is relatively small, whilst if it uncovers lots of new individuals then there are probably many more who remain unencountered. These methods can be extended to look at change over time in ‘open’ populations. The main objective of the research was to explore whether similar methods could enable the quantitative investigation of historical populations in general and levels of party activism in particular.

To meet these objectives the researchers examined activism using capture recapture methods in a series of constituency parties, creating a database, which traced individual activists through the archival records. 

Key Methodological Findings: Methodologically the research showed that ‘closed’ recapture techniques do have an important role to play in estimating the size of historical populations, particularly because there are diagnostic tests to indicate where the methods should not be used. The researchers also showed that there are a wide range of ‘open’ techniques available to deal with hetrogenous populations. Using a range of these different methods and models they showed that it is possible to quantitatively examine the historical dynamics of party activism. These techniques could be applied to any sufficiently well documented historical population. Thus, recapture techniques are an important tool enabling the much more sophisticated quantitative analysis of historical populations.

Key Substantive Findings: The number of Party activists at all levels did decline in line with party membership in this period. The number of activists also increased in periods when membership increased. The councillors at the top of the party provided a continuous and relatively unchanging body at the centre of the party. On average they remained active in the party for over 30 years. However, at all levels below this there was considerable turnover of activity. Those holding internal positions at constituency level were generally active for under ten years, and at ‘regular’ activists responsible for most of the day-to-day canvassing but who held no elected position had an average activist life of under four years. Only a tiny fraction of those who canvassed for the party during election campaigns were ever involved in the party’s work outside of election periods. The rate of departures from the activist population did not increase at any point during the period under study. The implication of this is that patterns of recruitment were primarily responsible for the substantial changes in the activist population.