British Election Study

BES logoThe 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 most recent study - the 2009/10 British Election Study - mixes continuity and innovation.

The 2009/10 British Election Study

The 2009/10 BES is currently underway. Its main topics will cover:

  • rival explanations of party choice
  • turnout and political participation
  • campaign dynamics and election outcomes
  • inter-election dynamics of public opinion and party support
  • the BES study is comprised of three broad sets of surveys:
    • National Probability survey of electors conducted with face-to-face interviews both before and after the election takes place
    • Campaign study conducted on the internet which tracks trends in public opinion before, during and after the election campaign
    • Continuous monitoring survey conducted on the internet every month between elections to study long-term public opinion

The principal investigators for the 2009/10 BES are:

  • David Sanders, Professor of Government at the University of Essex
  • Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex
  • Harold Clarke, Ashbel Smith Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Marianne Stewart, Professor at the School of Social Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas.

How to access this resource

For further information visit the British Election Study website.

For all previous BES surveys visit the British Election Studies series page at the UK Data Archive.

Download the British Election Study information sheet (PDF, 66Kb)

Further information

  • BES Research Officer
    Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ
    Email: whitely@essex.ac.uk
    Telephone: +44 (0)1206 873346
    Fax: +44 (0)1206 873894 

  • ESRC resources team
    Email: esrcresources@esrc.ac.uk 
    Telephone: 01793 413180