BASS Philosophy and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Understanding Political Choice in Britain

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI31042
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


POLI31041 provides an in depth analysis of the choices British voters make with a focus on the evidence provided by the British Election Study and other quantitative data sources. Students will achieve an advanced understanding of modern electoral research, including the data and methods researchers use to analyse political choice. Students will apply these methods in hands-on workshops in which they will use specialist statistical software to analyse survey data and develop their own tables and graphs addressing key aspects of voting choice. Students will explore the main aspects of voting behaviour in Britain. The social divisions of class, ethnicity and origin will be examined. We will also examine in depth the impact of changing issue agendas, voters' assessments of party performance, leaders and the economy, and the effects of electoral campaigns on voter preferences. We will discuss how recent events such as the Brexit referendum are indicative of deep transformations in the British electorate. Finally, the factors influencing the decision to vote at all will be considered, as well as non-electoral forms of political participation.

This is a great course for students considering a career in political journalism or thinking of becoming a politics researcher, for example in think tanks, public bodies, independent agencies, third sector organisations or academia. Students wishing to pursue postgraduate study after graduation will find this course extremely useful as it will help them to develop analytical skills that are essential in most MA and MSc research-oriented programmes. While we will be focusing on elections and voting behaviour, the quantitative skills developed in this course can be applied to a wider range of substantive topics.


  • POLI31042 will provide students with an advanced understanding of the main controversies in the analysis of British elections. The course will develop students' understanding of the main methods used to analyse elections, including survey data collection, regression analysis, and experimental methods. POLI31042 will develop students' critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of analysis techniques, and build their confidence in analysing and writing about data.

Learning outcomes

• Substantive knowledge of the main factors influencing vote choice in Britain and the methods used to establish their relative influence.

• Methodological knowledge of the main principles of survey data collection and analysis.

• Critical understanding of how to gather and analyse evidence for and against different hypotheses (about voting behaviour).

• Ability to analyse quantitative data independently and to present findings in writing using tables and charts.

• Intermediate usage knowledge of statistical software used to analyse survey data (SPSS).

• A range of transferable skills such as time management, meeting a deadline, problem-solving.

• Greater intellectual independence and increased confidence to develop empirical analyses in essays, projects and dissertations.


The course is divided into the following 5 main themes:

Theme 1: 'Studying (British) elections: Analytical strategies and types of data'. Includes: analysing elections using aggregate data; analysing elections using survey data: strengths and limitations.

Theme 2: 'Political (dis)engagement'. Includes: turnout; other modes of political participation.

Theme 3: 'Understanding voting behaviour (I): Systemic factors'. Includes: the impact of electoral institutions on election outcomes, the electoral system; electoral geography and tactical voting.

Theme 4: 'Understanding voting behaviour (II): Long-term individual factors'. Includes: from social structure to voting behaviour; the declining role of party identification.

Theme 5: 'Understanding voting behaviour (III): Short-term contextual factors'. Includes: assessments of performance and vote choice; the impact of economic evaluation; media and campaign effects.

During our weekly lectures we will examine and discuss the main theories, debates and concepts in the study of voting behaviour, combining reflections on seminal work and more recent developments in the field. While focusing on the UK case, we will also consider how British voters and elections compare to those in other consolidated democracies. In parallel, every week we will analyse some of these phenomena first-hand in practical workshops held in computer clusters, where we will use the most up-to-date high quality sources of data, including the latest surveys conducted by the British Election Study. Students will gradually develop their skills using statistical software until they reach an advanced level by the end of the course, allowing them to conduct their own analyses for the final essay and also to apply their skills in other courses and assignments (eg their final dissertation).

Knowledge and understanding

  • Substantive knowledge of the main factors influencing vote choice in Britain, how these have changed over time, and the methods used to establish their relative influence.
  • Methodological knowledge of the main principles of survey data collection and analysis, and the strengths and weaknesses of this approach

Intellectual skills

  • Critical understanding of how to gather and analyse evidence for and against different hypotheses about voting behaviour
  • Critical understanding of the main explanations of voting behaviour in Britain

Practical skills

  • Familiarity with survey data and the methods used to analyse it
  • Ability to analyse and present data, through tables and charts, in order to evaluate hypotheses

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Familiarity with survey data and methods, widely used in a variety of different professions
  • Introduction to the specialist statistical software used to analyse survey data
  • Development of data presentation skills, including construction of effective tables and graphs.

Assessment methods

3,000 words Essay worth 65%

3 learning logs (500 words each, 35%)

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission. Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented, the analyses conducted, your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard.

This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Tutorials 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ceri Fowler Unit coordinator
Marta Cantijoch Cunill Unit coordinator

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