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Current Projects

The Ideosyncratic Voter: Issue Opinion and Democratic Politics in Britain

Project Leads: Professor Nick Vivyan

Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship (£45,048) on Issue Opinion and Democratic Politics in Britain.

Professor Nick Vivyan is using this fellowship to write a book-length re-examination of policy opinion and of the possibility for policy-based political choice among the British electorate. The book will be based on an original three-wave panel survey which measured the views of a nationally representative sample of British voters on 34 policy issues. Using this data, we examine the extent to which British voters hold meaningful policy opinions, the extent to which these are ideologically organised, and the consequences for electoral politics. This is joint work with Chris Hanretty and Ben Lauderdale. 

Understanding British Democracy Through an Investigation of Nineteenth Century Elections

Project Leads: Dr Patrick Kuhn, Dr Nick Vivyan, and Dr Gidon Cohen

The project’s aim is to affect the understanding of British democracy through engagement with 19th-century electoral practices among secondary school students (KS3) and the wider public. It is achieved through three objectives. First, the creation of secondary school teaching material based on research outputs from the ESRC/AHRC funded project “Causes and Consequences of Election Violence: Evidence from 19th Century England and Wales” , including the interactive map of election violence, aimed at KS3, targeted at specific Citizenship and History elements of the National Curriculum. Second, in collaboration with Beamish – The Living Museum of the North , we will develop an experiential learning activity, enabling students to experience the 1868 election in North Durham as agents for one of the three candidates, and finally, by distributing our collected information to local history societies and tourism board to include this colourful electoral period in their local history information and planned activities. 

Effects of gender, race, and partisanship on likability in US campaigns

Center for American Women and Politics

Project leads: Dr Tessa DiTonto and Dr Dave Andersen

What does it mean for a political candidate to be ‘likable?’ Most models of vote choice include some element of likability, polls often include questions about how likable a candidate is, and much media attention during a campaign is devoted to the likability (or lack thereof) of the individuals in the race. Yet, as a concept, likability is difficult to define and little political science literature has systematically considered the factors that contribute to or detract from perceptions of likability. What is clear is that candidate gender, race, and partisanship all play an important role in determining perceptions of candidate likability, often to the detriment of women — and especially women of color. While women’s political representation has increased substantially, enormous disparities still persist. Perceptions of candidate likability influenced by stereotypes and biases based in gender, race, and partisanship may be a key factor in explaining these disparities.  

We propose a series of studies which examine the relationship between gender, race, partisanship, and likability for political candidates, culminating in a book-length manuscript. We will seek to answer the following questions: 1. What makes a candidate “likable” or not and does this differ by candidate gender?; 2. How do the content and consequences of likability evaluations vary for women based on race, ethnicity, and/or political party?; 3. To what extent do evaluations of likability predict global evaluations of candidates and vote choice?; 4. Which voter characteristics  interact with candidate attributes to influence likability judgments?; and 5. How can/do women candidates navigate the issue of likability in order to increase their electability? In order to answer these questions, we will employ a multi-method approach including interviews of campaign professionals, experiments isolating causal effects, and a survey of voters in order to better understand how likability functions in the “real world.” 


Trust me, I'm verified: Dynamic experiments exploring susceptibility to social media misinformation campaigns British Academy Small Grants: £10,000

Project lead: Drs Adrian Millican and David Andersen 

Most of the current research on social media usage relies upon observation and examination of actual user behaviour on various platforms, forming the basis for what we know about how social media influences public opinion and political behaviour. However, these observations do not allow us to determine the causes behind why people behave in particular ways, such as choosing to follow new sources of information, process what they learn, or alter their beliefs. In a world where active misinformation campaigns are attempting to influence users for various reasons, passive observational techniques limit the ability of researchers and policy leaders to fully understand the role social media plays in keeping the public accurately informed. We add to public knowledge of social media influence by turning to a more active approach that permits us to simulate social media feeds in a dynamic experimental environment. In this way we seek to test existing theories of social media use and influence and develop new understanding of how the public learns from these new forms of communication. 

Causes and Consequences of Electoral Violence: Evidence from England and Wales 1832-1914
ESRC/AHRC ES/P007775/1 £504,077 and CoA Extension #51 ES/P007775/1: £105,883

Project lead: Patrick M Kuhn 

Project co-leads: Gidon Cohen (Durham) and Nick Vivyan(Durham) 

Electoral violence plagues the modern world, but it is not a new phenomenon. Violence and intimidation were a common part of early elections in many now established democracies. This ESRC and AHRC funded projectuses new detailed data to examine electoral violence in England and Wales from its peak after the Great Reform Act (1832) until the Great War (1914). Based on the exceptionally detailed historical records available for Britain (1832-1914), Patrick M Kuhn (PI, Durham), Gidon Cohen and Nick Vivyan provide new answers to some of the most challenging questions about what leads to electoral violence, and about its effects. Our findings will be useful not just to historians but contemporary scholars of election violence and practitioners seeking to tackle this problem. 

Most existing research focuses on modern-day emerging democracies. So why study an historical case to learn about what drives electoral violence? First, electoral violence was successfully eliminated in Britain. This allows us to examine the factors that led to its demise, which is not possible in contemporary cases where electoral violence tends to persist. Second, we are able to look at a period of nearly one century and 20 general elections. In contrast to contemporary studies - which have timespans of about twenty to thirty years - this enables us to disentangle short-, medium- and long-term trends in electoral violence. Finally, the available data on election violence and other variables of interest in England and Wales during this time period are exceptionally good, especially when compared to contemporary cases. This allows us to implement cutting-edge research designs by tracing a large number of individuals' voting histories over multiple elections and correlate this with incidents of violence, along with various background characteristics (e.g., age, education, income, employment etc.) to study the micro-dynamics of electoral violence and see how violence effects voting behaviour over time and across multiple elections. 

The project revises existing historical understandings of nineteenth-century Britain. We provide a new contextual account of election violence in the 19th centuryoffering a much more careful and geographically specific periodization of election violence. We address major historical debates about the adequacy of cultural explanations of election violence by examining whether such violence was primarily used strategically by politicians, or whether, as most contemporary historians have argued, that it was an unfortunate part of the carnival atmosphere of elections in the Victorian period. 

For more information visit the project website or follow us on Twitter @VictorianEV_UK.