The General Election – a literature overview

The Houses of Parliament (c/o Eric Hossinger on Flickr used under a CC-BY license).

With the general election just over a week away, I take a look at some interesting psychology resources available to you on a variety of aspects of the election process, including polling, leadership, young voters and more…


Huberty (2015) looks at the difficulty of using social media to predict the outcome of an election. Huberty explores the use of tools such as Twitter for forecasting elections in a number of democracies, including the United States and Germany. He concludes that social media does not (“and probably never will”) offer a stable representative picture of the electorate and will not replace traditional polling methods as a means of assessing voting intentions.

The failure of polls to accurately predict the outcome of the 1992 election are often cited as a reason we should be cautious in drawing too many conclusions from what the polls appear to indicate. Adam Phillips (2010) of the Market Research Society reflects on the 1992 election result and what polling organisations learnt from it.

More recently, polls in 2010 did not accurately predict the Liberal Democrat vote, with far fewer turning out to vote for the party than the polls had suggested in the run-up to the election. Whiteley et al (2010) examine some of the reasons why this may have been the case.


Mortimore et al (2014) examined national survey data on voter perceptions of the party leaders during the election campaign in 2010, exploring the relationship between specific image attributes and overall satisfaction for each of the leaders. Their research found evidence that negative perceptions have “more powerful effects on satisfaction than positive ones”.

Drake & Higgins (2012) explore the use of language by the leaders during the 2010 debate, paying particular attention to the ways in which language is used to align the speakers with opposition to the political establishment.

Ryan et al (2010) considered the relationship between the likelihood of winning a seat and the gender of the candidate contesting it. The researchers found that where a seat is considered “safe” a male candidate would be more likely to be selected to contest the seat, but there was a strong preference for a female when the seat was described as “hard to win”.

Garzia (2013) investigates the effects of the changes in relationship between Western European political parties and their electorates. Garzia notes the decline in social identity in predicting attachment to a particular party, and the increasing influence of voters’ attitudes towards political leaders.

Young voters

Ipsos Mori (2010) produced a report that revealed how the votes at the 2010 general election were broken down by gender, age, social class and housing tenure. According to their findings, the turnout for the 18-24 age bracket was lower than all the other age groups, with women aged 18-24 particularly low (39%).

Cammaerts et al (2014) question the common perception that young voters are apathetic and not engaged in political issues. Through interviews, surveys and focus groups, they found that young voters were politically engaged but are turned off by mainstream political discourse. (Article is behind a paywall but accessible via ResearchGate.)

Leppäniemi et al (2010) acknowledge the issue with low turnout with young people throughout Europe and they examine a digital marketing campaign targeted at young voters in the 2007 Finnish general election. The study consisted of in-depth interviews with key figures involved in the campaign planning and implementation.

Becker and Waisanen (2013) examine the impact of political comedy, asserting that exposure to political comedy has an “encouraging effect on individuals” and increases their “personal evaluations of their ability to effectively contribute to the political process”. In another paper, based on research in America, Becker (2013) argues that watching shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show increases the likelihood that young people will engage in politics, whether it be taking part in a demonstration or signing a petition.

Condon and Holleque (2013) examine the effect of general self-efficacy on young adults’ voting behaviour. They found that general self-efficacy has a positive effect on voter turnout, particularly amongst young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

At the LSE’s European Politics and Policy blog, James Sloam argues that whilst young Europeans are generally “increasingly disillusioned” with conventional forms of politics, there has been a resurgence in youth political protest. Sloam also notes that there has been a “diversification of political engagement” with regard to how young people discover their political voice.

More UEL resources

Check out the journal Political Psychology for a wealth of research on the relationship between psychology and political phenomena. Either search within the journal (see “Search within this publication”) or enter the following search string in Academic Search Complete:

(JN “Political Psychology”) AND (election)

(“JN” is Ebsco code for restricting the search to a particular journal.)

Open Access

The Journal of Social and Political Psychology is an Open Access publication (see here for a quick primer on Open Access) which publishes articles “as soon as they are finalized” rather than publishing complete issues at periodic intervals. In terms of focus and scope, it publishes articles “at the intersection of social and political psychology that substantially advance the understanding of social problems, their reduction, and the promotion of social justice”.

More information

Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organisation that checks the claims of politicians and the media. The Full Fact team will be working throughout the general election to check the claims of all parties as the election draws nearer.

The BBC are running a poll tracker ahead of the election, producing a poll of polls based on the findings of all the main polling organisations.

You can fact check some of the claims made by politicians at the Office for National Statistics website.

The Electoral Commission website has information for disabled voters on their rights, as well as a voting factsheet provided by Mencap here. Mencap also provide more resources for people with learning disabilities here.

Open Rights Group have created a tool so that you can see where your parliamentary candidates stand on surveillance.

Your Next MP provides information on all the candidates standing for election in your constituency.

You can also find lots of useful information on your current MP, including voting record, appearances in parliament and various statistics, on the They Work For You website.

Democratic Dashboard provides lots of information about your constituency, including previous election results, general information about the constituency, forecasts and polling and demographics.

Votr is an app that anonymises the Twitter feeds of your local candidates and gets you to “like” or “dislike” each tweet before displaying your results to see who you most agree with. Votr is available in iTunes and the Google Play store.

The Warwick Policy Lab, based at the University of Warwick, is carrying out a survey about young people and voting in the UK. If you wish to take part in the survey, you can do so here.

If you are going to vote on the 7th May, do resist the temptation to take a selfie inside the polling station! The Electoral Commission advises that this may be a breach of the law (The Electoral Commission, 2014) and you risk a visit from the police should you choose to do so.


Check out the Politics subject support page for more resources on politics both in the UK and beyond.


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