Public confidence in the electoral processes of the United Kingdom

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

Trust in electoral processes is frequently cited as a cause for concern at the highest levels of electoral administration. The Chair of the Electoral Commission, Sir John Holmes, stated recently that the electoral system in the UK relies on trust and if doubt starts to creep in, the electoral processes in the UK could be considerably more vulnerable than we assume. However, there is still relatively little research on the factors which determine public confidence in electoral processes.

This project will investigate the changes in public confidence over time and the effects of personal characteristics on levels of confidence. The characteristics of most immediate interest would be demographic, such as socioeconomic status, gender and ethnicity. Any demographic group with a serious lack of confidence is a threat to the equal participation of groups in an election. Differing perceptions across local authority areas could also (possibly) be indicative of problems in the regional variation of electoral administration. Personal characteristics may be equally revealing, such as the difference in the levels of trust in the electoral processes between voters and non-voters, supporters of different parties, or those who supported the winner/loser in recent electoral contests. By establishing who does and who does not have confidence in the electoral system, we will be in a position where we can hypothesise on the reasons some groups are less trusting than others.

The research will evaluate the main patterns of reasoning amongst citizens with an adverse view of the UK's electoral processes. In particular, it is expected that analysis of news stories and social media posts surrounding electoral integrity will be vital for discerning the areas of concern. High-profile cases of technical failure or electoral fraud would seem to be an obvious start, but only if the public indicates these are the issues which caused them to lose full confidence. Equally interesting will be citizens who continue to have trust despite the failings of the electoral processes, which may indicate that trust can mediate attitudes which could otherwise lead to an election being seen as illegitimate.

The research will mainly be conducted using statistical analysis of existing ESRC data sets. The British Election Study, the Electoral Integrity Project, and the Electoral Commission analysis of public attitudes all contain data on issues relating to confidence in the electoral process. The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems has relevant data across a wide range of democracies for a comparative perspective. Although survey data will be the main method of research, it is possible that other methods, such as panel interviews, would be necessary. An overview of media stories on electoral integrity will also be vital for the investigation.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2097065 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Gregory Stride