For Immediate Release
Steve McGregor, UTD, (972) 883-2293, [email protected]
Four Political Scientists, Including Two from UTD,
The UTD professors, along with two scholars from the University of Essex in England, earlier this month received an award of about $1.67 million from the Economic and Social Research Council of the U.K. – the British equivalent of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. – to conduct a comprehensive study of voters and voting patterns before, during and after the next British general election, which must occur before mid-2006. In addition, the NSF earlier this year provided the group funding of approximately $378,000 for monthly, Internet-based polling of British voters over the next four years.
The group is composed of some of the leading experts on British elections, including Dr. Harold D. Clarke, Ashbel Smith Professor of Political Science in UTD’s School of Social Sciences. Clarke is editor of the prestigious political journals Electoral Studies and Political Research Quarterly and has conducted landmark research of national elections in Britain and in his native Canada. Clarke is joined by Dr. Marianne C. Stewart, professor of government, politics and political economy at UTD, and two colleagues from the University of Essex – Dr. David Sanders, professor of government, and Dr. Paul Whiteley, professor of government and director of the university’s Democracy and Participation Research Program.
The group’s work for the Economic and Social Research Council will address three issues, according to Stewart: why voter participation in elections is falling, reasons for candidate and party selections and the relative level of satisfaction with a democratic form of government.
“In democracies, there are a variety of choices, one of which is whether to vote or not,” Stewart explained. “The propensity of people to vote is declining. There’s likely not a single explanation for this phenomenon, but we want to know why it’s happening in Britain.”
Once a voter in the U.K. decides to vote, which party they choose – and why they do so – will be examined by the researchers as well.
“In the U.K., voters often have four or more choices of political parties, not two as we do in the U.S.,” Stewart said. “We’re interested in learning why people there vote for particular parties, as well as their level of satisfaction with democracy.”
The researchers will gather their data in three ways – in face-to-face interviews, through “mail-back” questionnaires and via daily Internet surveys – from thousands of people in England, Scotland and Wales, representing a cross-section of the eligible British electorate, including those who don’t vote, according to Clarke.
“The Internet component is particularly interesting,” Clarke said. “We will conduct online interviews with 200 people a day, every day, for the duration of the campaign, which in Britain generally lasts four to five weeks.
“We should be able to trace the evolution of party support throughout the campaign through the daily Internet surveys – to see political ebb and flow virtually in real-time,” he said. “All of this data will be available to the public via web sites at UTD and at Essex.”
Clarke said that the project is the first major national election study to use the Internet as a principal means for data collection.
After the election, the researchers will again contact all of those who had been interviewed previously or had completed questionnaires or survey forms in order to gauge voter attitudes and changes, if any.
The last general election in Britain – the U.K.’s equivalent to a U.S. presidential contest – took place in 2001. Constitutionally, another must be held within five years, although it could occur sooner.
The 2001 national election was the subject of an extensive study by Clarke and Stewart and their English colleagues. The results of that research have been compiled in a new book titled Political Choice in Britain, published by Oxford University Press. The book will be officially released at a function next month at the House of Commons in London.
The second elections grant, funded by NSF, will enable the four political scientists to utilize the Internet to contact 1,000 people each month for 48 months to learn their opinions on government and politics, among other topics.
“We’re looking at the dynamics of public opinion and how it is shaped by events,” Clarke said. “If you only survey the electorate at every general election – every four or five years – there are going to be holes in the data. This monthly, ongoing sampling of opinion will help us fill in the holes between elections and help lay the groundwork for our study of the next general election.”
The survey process, which began in January, is being conducted in partnership with YouGov, a leading Internet survey firm in Britain.
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