Skip to main content

2015 British Election Internet Panel Study Wave 1

The British Election Study Team

The British Election Study is pleased to announce the release of the first wave of the Internet Panel. 20,881 respondents were interviewed by YouGov between 20th February 2014 and 9th March 2014. Download the data here.

The study design aimed at sampling 12500 English, 5000 Scottish and 2500 Welsh respondents. Respondents were eligible for the survey if they are aged 16 or older and will be able to vote in any type of UK election (including local and European).

There are four different types of questions that makeup the British Election Study.

1      Core items

These items will be asked in every wave to all respondents. This is important because it gives a large group of the most important questions that will be able to be tracked over every wave. These include items such as vote choice in the general election and assessments of the economic situation.

The core items are generally asked to all respondents in all waves. However, there are some exceptions.

There are too many core items to go through in this post, so interested readers should go to the codebook [insert link] to see all the available variables.

The British Election Study is built around four thematic priorities:

  • Disengagement with politics
  • Coalition government and accountability
  • Representation (including economic context)

1.1    Disengagement

There are many theories among political scientists for why voters are becoming disengaged. Some of the beliefs and attitudes that the BES is tracking are

  • Norms around voting: “It is every citizen’s duty to vote in an election” and “Most people I know usually vote in general elections”
  • Perceived competence to take part in politics: “I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country” and ” It is often difficult for me to understand what is going on in government and politics”
  • The responsiveness of the political system: “It takes too much time and effort to be active in politics and public affairs” and “Politicians don’t care what people like me think”

1.2    Coalition government and accountability

Coalition government has opened up unique challenges for voters to assign blame and credit to the parties in government. It also poses challenges for surveys which have to recognise that there can be overlapping responsibility between coalition partners.

We ask many questions about how respondents assign responsibility to different parties and actors. For instance we ask respondents who they think is responsible for Britain’s national debt.

In your opinion, who is responsible for the size of Britain’s national debt? *Please tick all that apply.*

  • The Conservatives in the UK government
  • The Liberal Democrats in the UK government
  • The previous UK Labour government
  • British banks
  • Global financial institutions
  • Trade unions
  • The European Union
  • Other
  • None of these
  • Don’t know

This question allows voters’ to assign responsibility to as many of the parties as they think are to blame and also allows that voters might see some issues as being out of the hands of government altogether.

In addition to the national debt, we ask questions about responsibility for:

  • the economy
  • the NHS
  • education
  • the cost of living
  • immigration
  • crime

1.3    Representation

An important aspect of representation is how well voters’ feel the parties focus on the issues that matter to them and share their views. The British Election Study includes two party and self placement questions where respondents place the parties and themselves on policy scales. The two issues we look at in wave 1 are positions on European integration and positions on redistribution.

Another aspect of representation is how voters respond to their perceptions of government performance. There are many items related to voters’ experience of the economy. One innovation the current survey makes is to try and ask questions that focus on more concrete examples of how the economy is going:

“Do you think now is a good or a bad time for people to buy major household items (furniture, kitchen appliances, televisions, and things like that)?”

This helps to focus the respondent on their actual situation rather than focusing on their feelings towards the parties when answering the question.

2      Country items

In addition to the core items, there are sets of questions written specifically for each of the nations included in this survey: England, Scotland and Wales (note that Northern Ireland is not included in this survey due to the very different political situation there).

The largest country specific section is in Scotland, where the BES includes items inquiring about many aspects of the Scottish referendum campaign and preferences about independence.

To allow for a comparison of different devolved situations, many of these questions are repeated in Wales.


Due to the size of the Scottish referendum module, two sets of core items are only asked to respondents in England and Wales:

  • Party contact questions
  • Perceptions of how united or divided the political parties are

3      Top up items

Top up items are asked to all respondents in the first wave that they take part in. These are generally demographic and attitudinal variables that are believed to be fairly stable over time.

These include:

  • Occupation
  • Parent’s occupation
  • Country of birth
  • Highest education level
  • Left-right values

While some of these can change, they do not need to be asked in every wave. In addition to these variables, the BES also includes much of the information that YouGov routinely collects about all members of their panel.

  • Age
  • Highest qualification
  • Home ownership
  • Marital status
  • Age left education (we already have highest qualification)
  • Ethnicity
  • Local authority and education authority
  • Household income
  • Personal income
  • Household size
  • Number of children in household
  • Preferred daily newspaper
  • Vote choice in 2010
  • Religiosity
  • Religious denomination
  • Type of organization worked for
  • Big 5 personality measures

Having these measures from YouGov’s existing data leaves more space for other important questions on the rest of the survey and avoids asking respondents for information they’ve already provided in the past.

4      Playground items

The playground contains items that are only asked to subsets of respondents.

Because of the number of questions asked to Scottish and Welsh respondents, these questions are only asked to English respondents.

In wave 1 these questions are primarily suggested by the community of academic users. After reviewing 24 proposals for user content, the British Election Study team and advisory board approved three user proposals for inclusion in wave 1.

These proposals are:

  • Citizens’ evaluations of the fulfilment of election pledges (Heinz Brandenburg and Robert Thomson)
  • Voter Uncertainty About Party Policy Positions (Zeynep Somer-Topcu and Margit Tavits)
  • A Social Identity Approach to Partisanship (Leonie Huddy and Alex Bankert)

Additionally, some questions from the previous round of the British Election Study in 2010 are included in the playground for comparability:

  • Prospective economic evaluations (replaced with perceived risk of unemployment in the core)
  • How well the government has handled issues and how well the opposition would handle them (replaced with coalition accountability questions in the core).

Finally, the playground includes a number of items that the BES team felt are useful to include in the survey but didn’t need to be asked to all respondents in every wave:

  • Perceptions of income levels needed to “get by”, be “well off” and how much a family on welfare receives.

Which parties prioritise which issues.


Image credit to Ministerio TIV Colombia / Flickr under Creative Commons License