Category Archives: What do the academics say?

What the academics say: 7-in-10 voters know the name of their MP – and 82% of Lib Dem MPs are local

Ballot boxWhat do MPs want from voters? Well, knowing the name of their man in Westminster would be a start. What do voters want from their MPs? To come from the area they represent is the single most important requirement – 80% want that, far more than wanting more female (50%) or more working class MPs (58%).

So both MPs and the public might be encouraged by the findings of two recent surveys.

Britain’s MPs are more local than you think (Demos)

photo by: FutUndBeidl
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What the academics say: How the Lib Dems won the Coalition Agreement

clegg cameron rose garden‘The UK Coalition Agreement of 2010: Who Won?’ is a fascinating paper written by Thomas Quinn, Judith Bara and John Bartle. It was published in May 2011, but I only stumbled across it yesterday. Here’s what it aimed to set out:

a content analysis of to determine which party gained (or lost) most. ‘Gained’ and ‘lost’ here both have very specific meanings since they are based on comparisons of party positions as set out in their respective manifestos with the position of the new government set out in the agreement. In global terms we find that the agreement is nearer to the Liberal Democrats’ left-right position than the Conservatives’.

This is graphically illustrated by measure the two parties’ positions along a right-left scale:

coalition agreement 2010

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A longer read for the weekend: How important will incumbency be to the Lib Dems in 2015?

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKLast year I wrote a piece, So, about that Lib Dem wipeout in 2015 then…, highlighting that – though the polls are grim for the Lib Dems – the assumption of many pundits that this will automatically translate into Lib Dem annihilation at the next election is flawed.

That brief analysis was based on looking at the lists of Lib Dem-held seats that Labour and the Tories are targeting. Now Craig Johnson from Newcastle University has taken a more …

Also posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Democratic Audit on the “scandal” of the poor value taxpayers get for the £800m spent on elections in the UK

Ballot paperDemocratic Audit, an independent research organisation based at the London School of Economics, this week published a report, Engaging young voters with enhanced election information. The title may not be the most exciting ever, but the report itself is worth a read. (You can download it here.)

The executive summary from the report’s authors, Patrick Dunleavy and Richard Berry, sets out the current problem as they see it:

Current arrangements in the UK only give very poor, fragmented and old-fashioned feedback to voters about what effect their participation has had, and what election outcomes were.

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What do the academics say? Being local works

Academic cap and gown - Some rights reserved by NoDivisionWelcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – it’s the effect of being local on a candidate’s election chances, courtesy of an article in Political Geography :

In this paper, we the British General Election of 2010 and the British Election Survey, together with geographical data from Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail, to test the hypothesis that candidate distance matters in

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What do the academics say? The incumbency effect for MPs

Academics in caps and gowns - Some rights reserved by herkieWelcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the incumbency benefit sitting MPs can build up, based on an analysis of the 1983-2010 general elections:

This note adapts two models commonly used to estimate the incumbency advantage that US members of Congress enjoy – the ‘slurge’ and the Gelman-King Index – to provide comparable estimates for UK MPs. The results show that

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What do the academics say? The benefits of uninformative photos

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – a little study from New Zealand about how even an uninformative photo helps convince people about the truth of a statement.

The British Psychological Society’s blog has details:

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What do the academics say? More attractive candidates pick up more votes

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today it’s the electoral appeal of physical appeal:

The work by the University of Exeter and the University Iowa found that the “halo effect” of attractiveness was most prominent in hotly contested constituencies.

Researchers found in those seats the most attractive candidate wins nearly three quarters of the time.

Dr Caitlin Milazzo, a lecturer in politics at Exeter, said choosing attractive candidates could give a party the “edge”.

“While our findings certainly do not indicate that unattractive candidates are unelectable, they do suggest that an attractiveness “advantage” may come

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What do the academics say? Ashcroft’s campaigning worked

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the impact of the Ashcroft-funded Conservative key seats campaign in the run-up to the 2010 election.

The latest edition of the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (Volume 22, No.3) includes, “Laying the Foundations for Electoral Success: Conservative Pre-Campaign Canvassing before the 2010 UK General Election” by David Cutts, Ron Johnston, Charles Pattie and Justin Fisher:

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Is 75% of the Coalition Agreement drawn from the Lib Dem manifesto? Alas, no…

One of the key justifications for Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition — one which has comforted many party members through the first two difficult years of being the junior partner in government with the Conservatives — has been the finding that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto appeared in the Programme for Government (commonly known as the Coalition Agreement). This assessment was based on research by UCL’s Constitution Unit, and published a year ago in their interim report on ‘How Coalition Government Works’ (PDF).

However, UCL has …

Also posted in News | Tagged , , , , and | 29 Comments

What do the academics say? How an intention to move effects turnout

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – how intention to move home influences turnout in Britain.

The finding is from “Geographic Mobility, Social Connections and Voter Turnout” by Keith Dowding, Peter John and Daniel Rubenson (Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Vol. 22 No.2, May 2012):

We have shown that the intention to move will reduce the probability that someone will vote, suggesting that people take into account the benefits consequent upon their vote when deciding whether to cast a ballot. Those intending to move are less likely to gain benefits

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Running for office? What voters think of your income

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – how voters prefer people who earn less rather than more.

The findings come from research presenting the details of two fictional candidates to voters and asking them what they thought of each. Details of one of the fictional candidates were then altered to see how that changed the reaction of voters.

Here is what voters were initially told about that person:

John Burns is 48 years old, and was born and brought up in your area, before going to University to study for a degree in mathematics.

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Can polling station location alter how people vote?

I’ve written before about how the number and location of polling stations has an impact on turnout, but what about the candidate choices people make when they are in a polling station?

A new academic study of 99 people suggests the choice of building for a polling station can have an impact on people’s political outlooks:

Also posted in Election law | Tagged and | 17 Comments

What do the academics say? Using betting markets to predict election outcomes

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today it is a study into how good, or not, the betting markets are at predicting the results of elections.

A few years ago, when spread betting on election results first became popular, there was a brief period when the state of betting markets was touted as a good guide to election results. The theory was that when people decide whether or not to stake their money on a bet they are revealing what they really think, in the way that public comments often do not. Moreover, …

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What do the academics say? More polling stations can raise turnout

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research.

Earlier this year I wrote about the merits of experimenting with increasing the number of polling stations:

This is a greatly under-researched area, and has not ever been tested directly in Britain. However, aside from the common-sense thought that shorter travel distance to polling stations may increase likelihood to vote, there is also some practical evidence from an analysis of voters in Brent over 20 years: “we conclude that the local geography of the polling station can have a significant impact on voter turnout and that there should be

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What do the academics say? The voters want local candidates

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the repeated finding that voters like local candidates:

Surveys have consistently found ‘localness’ to be one of the main criteria voters say they want in an election candidate. In each of five surveys between 1983 and 2005, voters ranked ‘to be from the local area’ or ‘to have been brought up in the area he or she represents’ (the precise question wording differed from survey to survey) as either the most important or the second most important characteristic that they were looking for in their

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What do the academics say? The science of bar charts

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – bar charts. Or, more precisely: why bar charts? Not, why push tactical voting and ‘we can win here’ messages, but why bar charts rather than pie charts, line graphs, scatter graphs or any of the myriad of other graphical devices available?

Pie charts make an occasional appearance in political leaflets but bar charts are so much the dominant form that the idea of switching to pie charts was the concept behind one of Liberal Democrat Voice’s April 1st spoof postings a few years back. …

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What the think tanks are saying: Is this the end of National Insurance?

The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is a Conservative think tank, founded by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph in 1974. In November last year, it published an article by David Martin entitled Abolish NICs – towards a more honest, fairer and simpler system .

In the forward, Jill Kirby (at the time Director of the CPS), said: “National Insurance (NI) has become income tax by another name. Yet… it is riddled with inconsistencies”

Do the arguments presented in David Martin’s paper indicate the beginning of the end for National Insurance Contributions? Certainly, the arguments are pretty compelling.

The paper summarises …

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What the think tanks are saying: The IFS on the Universal Credit

The Welfare Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament on the 17th February. It involves the biggest changes to the welfare system in at least 20 years, probably a lot longer. It includes the Universal Credit, intended to significantly reduce the poverty trap, by making it clearer to those on benefits that they would be better off in work.

A month ago, the IFS published “Universal Credit: much to welcome, but impact on incentives mixed”. Well worth reading. Here is a brief overview of what they say:

  • benefits will remain the same as under the present system

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What do the academics say? Tax and public support

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. This time it is a paper from David Brockington (University of Plymouth) and Todd Donovan (Western Washington University) looking at the political impact of increasing taxes.

After reviewing the work of others in this area, they focus in on council tax levels and election results in English local councils, comparing the performance of Labour and Conservative against changes in council tax levels:

We have tested if governments that presided over marginal increases in existing taxes lost vote share and seat share in the subsequent election. We find that

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What do the academics say? Influencing people to vote

During the 2005-10 Parliament I blogged several times pointing out how the trends in turnout in British elections were more positive than many of the media reports suggested. One reason for this was simply an interest in the gap between the widely accepted clichés in political and media circles about turnout and the reality. The other was that the gap is not simply of academic interest, as misplaced stories of turnout can in turn alter turnout.

Whether it is because of a herd effect (you know that other people are voting, so you copy them) or social pressure (you know that other people …

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Speed cameras: what does the evidence say?

Welcome to another in my occasional series on useful, interesting or controversial findings from academic studies. Today’s it is the question of speed cameras, for which a study of international evidence has recently been conducted:

To evaluate the effectiveness of speed cameras, the authors examined all eligible studies, that is, studies that met pre-set standard criteria. We analysed the effect of speed cameras on speeding, road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths by comparing what was happening in road areas before the introduction of speed cameras and after their introduction, and also by analysing what was happening in comparable road areas where no speed cameras were introduced during the study period.

The authors accepted a total of 35 studies for review which met the pre-set criteria. All studies reporting speed outcomes reported a reduction in average speeds post intervention with speed cameras. Speed was also reported as either reductions in the percentage of speeding vehicles (drivers), as percentage speeding reductions over various speed limits, or as reductions in percentages of top end speeders. A reduction in the proportion of speeding vehicles (drivers) over the accepted posted speed limit, ranged from 8% to 70% with most countries reporting reductions in the 10 to 35% range.

Speed cameraTwenty eight studies measured the effect on crashes. All 28 studies found a lower number of crashes in the speed camera areas after implementation of the program. In the vicinity of camera sites, the reductions ranged from 8% to 49% for all crashes, with reductions for most studies in the 14% to 25% range. For injury crashes the decrease ranged between 8% to 50% and for crashes resulting in fatalities or serious injuries the reductions were in the range of 11% to 44%. Effects over wider areas showed reductions for all crashes ranging from 9% to 35%, with most studies reporting reductions in the 11% to to 27% range. For crashes resulting in death or serious injury reductions ranged from 17% to 58%, with most studies reporting this result in the 30% to 40% reduction range. The studies of longer duration showed that these positive trends were either maintained or improved with time.

The quality of the included studies in this review was judged as being of overall moderate quality at best, however, the consistency of reported positive reductions in speed and crash results across all studies show that speed cameras are a worthwhile intervention for reducing the number of road traffic injuries and deaths.

To affirm this finding, higher quality studies, using well designed controlled trials where possible, and studies conducted over adequate length of time (including lengthy follow-up periods) with sufficient data collection points, both before and after the implementation of speed cameras, are needed.

Speed Camera Impact

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What do the academics say? The impact of public service broadcasting

Welcome to another in my occasional series on useful, interesting or controversial findings from academic studies. Today it is a study into the impact of public service broadcasting which looked at the US, the UK, Denmark and Finland.

These four countries were chosen because Denmark and Finland have a very strong TV public service approach, the US close to a pure-market based system and the UK is somewhere in-between.

TV news in Denmark and Finland was more likely to have hard news (“news reports about topics such as politics, public administration, the economy and science”), with the US and UK lower. Denmark …

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How do you get people to do things?

Here’s a smattering of experimental research findings, courtesy of the Fostering Sustainable Behaviour site (which also provides sources for the data):

  • When asked if they would financially support a recreational facility for the handicapped, 92% made a donation if they had previously signed a petition in favor of the facility, compared with 53% for those who had not been asked to sign the petition.
  • Residents of Bloomington, Indiana, were called and asked if they would consider, hypothetically, spending three hours working as a volunteer collecting money for the American Cancer Society. When these individuals were called back three days later by

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What do the academics say? Persuading someone to vote comes with a free bonus

Welcome to another in my occasional series on useful, interesting or controversial findings from academic studies of our politics and elections.

Today it’s turnout and the question, “Is voting habit forming?” In other words, if you persuade someone to go out and vote in one election, do you get a bonus benefit in that they are also then more likely to vote in future elections?

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What do the academics say? Ballot paper ordering

Welcome to a new occasional series covering what academics have to say about politics, elections and public opinion. As with most things in life, academic research comes in various flavours, including the good, the bad and the stating the bleeding obvious (though investigating ‘what everyone knows’ does have a role, as just sometimes it isn’t true after all).

Today’s selection is about the order in which names appear on ballot papers can affect election results.

Also posted in Election law | Tagged and | 7 Comments

Are you squandering the votes of 1 in 10 of your supporters?

The latest Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (Volume 19, Number 1) has some interesting research into how many votes people cast in English local elections where this is more than one vacancy to be filled at once, e.g. a three member ward with all the seats up for election at once:

7-15% of total potential votes are unused …

Unused votes occur when electors have a restricted choice of candidates, principally when parties fail to field as many candidates as there an available seats … unused votes stem from a misunderstanding of the electoral procedure … even when parties

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  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 17th Sep - 6:28pm
    An informative article. To do my bit for the No campaign in the final hours I will say that I worry a Yes vote will...
  • User AvatarMartin 17th Sep - 6:27pm
    Eddie: it would not even be temporary for the reasons I gave. The standing principle would probably be the treaty obligations that any successor state...
  • User AvatarBenj 17th Sep - 6:25pm
    Here one for you Sara. A quote from you on your LV site "The price of houses is directly linked to lack of supply." If...
  • User AvatarMartin 17th Sep - 6:13pm
    ... elections (sorry my computer blinked!). I simply wish the Party had been less one sided in this debate. If Scotland did vote YES we...
  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 17th Sep - 6:08pm
    Hi Martin, I meant that the EU withdrawal would only be temporary, but still immediate. I think the whole thing is constitutional naval gazing. It...
  • User AvatarMartin 17th Sep - 6:05pm
    From an outside perspective Denis Mollison's article rings true to me. I am very apprehensive of the Scottish Liberal Democrat's strong identification with the NO...