The British Election Study (BES) has been conducted at every General Election since 1964. The study looks at why people vote, and why they vote the way they do. The BES covers the following main subject areas: political preferences and values; dispositions to engage in different forms of political activity; and individual and household socio-demographic characteristics.
About the British Election Study

The purposes of the BES are:

  • to study long-term trends in British voting behaviour
  • to explain the election outcome
  • to explain party choice
  • to explain turnout
  • to examine the consequences of elections for the operation of democracy more generally.

The first study, conducted by David Butler and Donald Stokes in 1964, transformed the study of electoral behaviour in the UK. Butler and Stokes' survey-based methodology enabled them to test a variety of explanations for why people made electoral decisions. Their use of the random sampling approach enabled them to apply their conclusions to the population in general.

Since this first study, several changes have been made to the British Election Study, including refinement of political and economic attitude measurement and the introduction of multi-level models.

The 2015 British Election Study

The 2015 BES is currently underway. Its main topics will cover:

  • issues of representation and accountability
  • growing disengagement with mainstream political choices
  • impact of economic hardships and austerity upon political attitudes and participation

Themed 'Voters in Context', the study has been designed to aid understanding of how the changing political, economic and social context impact on British electoral behaviour. It will include:

  • a high quality address-based random probability sample face-to-face post-election survey
  • an inter-election internet panel across eight waves, including a daily rolling thunder campaign study of voters during the election campaign
  • a 'Comparative Study of Electoral Systems’ module in the post-election survey.

Innovations include the harvesting of twitter data in the campaign, the use of interactive technologies to map the personal social contexts of respondents, and the use of experimental methodology to enable comparison across the BES series. The study will develop an integrated data infrastructure for the study of elections through a program of data linkage and training.