It’s the BESt thing

There is a special category of things which merit a Wikipedia entry they don’t have. It’s impossible, or at least very difficult, to list members of this category. The very act of listing gives people a strong impetus to include these things in Wikipedia.

I mention this category of things because the British Election Studies are just such a thing. There are lots of other major academic surveys which get some Wikipedia loving: the American National Election Studies; World Values Survey, Eurobarometer — even (with due respect to any Kiwis who may be reading this) the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

Sadly, there is no Wikipedia page for the British Election Studies at the time of writing. That’s a major oversight, given that the BES is (in the phrase usually bandied about), “one of the longest running election studies worldwide”.
That’s not to say there’s nothing on British psephology — there’s a page on the Nuffield Election Studies. But the hard work of putting together a repeated academic survey of mass opinion has not been recognised.

That’s a shame — because so much academic research on electoral behaviour requires dedicated mass surveys. It’s possible to imagine another way of doing things. We could give academics working on elections slightly larger research grants, and get them to buy surveys from polling companies on an ad-hoc basis. But this way of operating would, in addition to penalizing researchers early on in their careers, would make a mockery of the claim to cumulative knowledge.
There is no guarantee that individually-commissioned surveys are going to ask the same questions or use the same operationalizations of key concepts.

So having a study like the British Election Study — which has been running since 1964, and which asks similar questions from election to election — is invaluable. That’s not to say that these election studies have become reified, or otherwise cast in stone: the team conducted the 2015 study has just finished soliciting questions for add-in modules.
That development has been possible thanks to the decreasing cost of commissioning polls. The 1974 study — available at the UK Data Service after registration — had a single poll with a sample of 2,462 respondents. The 2010 study — well, it’s actually quite difficult to say how many respondents were involved in the 2010 study, other than to say, `a lot’.

For our purposes, we generally use the continuous internet panel survey (CIPS) data. You can get it here. We have a Stata file lurking on our shared drive, which features information from a little over 16,000 respondents. For some specialised questions, we’ve looked at the continuous monitoring surveys (CMS), which ran monthly from 2009 until 2012. These have questions which sometimes appear, sometimes disappear. Sadly, there seems to be no way of finding out which questions appear where, save looking through the documentation for each (monthly) survey.

All of our work would not be possible without the BES. So go read up on the project, and the details on the new project team, which is already busy preparing for 2015.

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