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Information Seeking Behaviour and Election Predictions

My colleague Taha Yasseri and I recently received a grant from the Fell Fund to extend our work on information seeking behaviour around election time, which has allowed us to bring Eve Ahearn on board on the project. Over the next few months we’re going to be really expanding the amount of elections we cover in the research, and also look at different types of information seeking signal. We’ll also be firing up the project’s research blog which we started up a few months ago. Eve has just put up the first post on subjectivity in data collection.

By |2015-02-09T14:57:09+00:00February 9th, 2015|Research, Social Web|0 Comments

Measuring Ministerial Career Dynamics

I have a new article out in West European Politics with my colleagues Holger Döring and Conor Little which looks at the career dynamics of ministers in seven European countries over the last 50 or so years. We were interested in factors relating to their stability in the job to a large extent, but also more general things such as how power gradually turns over in most democracies. We find an important diversion in the career trajectories of senior and junior ministers in most countries, with a small core of senior ministers staying in power for long periods of time whilst a larger and more fluid mass of junior ministers move in and out of power more frequently.


Ministerial careers isn’t a core area of substantive research for me, but there was a fairly extensive computational element to the project which did get me interested. It makes use of the wonderful Parlgov political data structure, which was really useful for both organising collaborative data collection and storing the data.

This project was also my first foray into using SQL seriously for academic research. An SQL database is a wonderfully neat format for organising research projects if you’ve got lots of different types of data which only need to be mashed together for analysis. It does save time on the recombining element as well. But it does create a bit of overhead and I’m still not sure it is in the core computational social science toolkit (unless you are in Hadoop territory with the size of your dataset, in which case the SQL equivalent Hive really comes into it’s own).

By |2015-01-19T15:29:15+00:00January 19th, 2015|Research, Social Science Computing|3 Comments

Digital Politics in Western Democracies

I recently had the chance to review Cristian Vaccari’s excellent new book Digital Politics in Western Democracies. Vaccari has assembled a great cross country comparative dataset on various indicators relating to politics and the internet, and provides a refreshing contrast to work which has been largely US centric so far. Have a look at the review here.

By |2014-10-29T18:09:54+00:00October 29th, 2014|Politics and Democracy, Research|0 Comments

Can electoral popularity be predicted using socially generated big data?

New article published with Taha Yasseri in IT – Information Technology. A short piece making the case for theoretically informed social media predictions, which is part of a larger project we are running with support from the Fell Fund over the next year or so. Read it here:

By |2014-10-01T09:13:28+01:00October 1st, 2014|Research, Social Web|0 Comments

A “big data” approach to studying parliamentary scrutiny

I have a new article out in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations: In Search of the Politics of Security. In it, I take what could be called a big data approach to the study of parliamentary scrutiny, by scraping information on the passage of legislation from the UK parliament’s website. The website’s current incarnation is relatively recent and there isn’t that much legislation passed every year so I was only able to scrape information on around 150 successfully passed bills. However the information which does come out is quite rich – all recorded votes, amount of time it took to pass the legislation, links to debates and committee hearings, etc. So I still think of it as a kind of big data approach.

My question was pretty simple: does the UK parliament offer less scrutiny on legislation which relates to crime and national security? This emerges from my interest in securitization theory and security politics, which I must admit I have recently been drifting away from slightly (as the war on terror has died down I also think it is becoming slightly less relevant). The project started off as an attempt to measure the scale of this difference, based on what I perceive as a quite widespread assumption that legislators essentially roll over when the government wants to toughen up crime or security law. In the end however I found a relationship in the other direction – such legislation seems to get more attention and scrutiny. It’s a smallish dataset and a limited time period so the conclusions aren’t hard and fast, nevertheless I think it’s a bit of a challenge to the way security politics is often conceptualised.

By |2014-06-30T10:24:36+01:00June 30th, 2014|Research, Social Science Computing|0 Comments


Over the last couple of months I’ve been involved with the “euandi” project run by Alex Trechsel at the European University Institute. euandi is a voting advice application designed to offer information to users about the extent to which their political preferences overlap with those of political parties standing in the upcoming European Parliament elections. The application is, from the perspective of a political scientist, pretty cool – you can visualize your position in political “space” and also look at which other areas of Europe have political views which align with your own, at a super low level of granularity (see pictures below). Apparently there’s a place for me in every country though I’d be best off in Sweden. Who knew? 🙂

My political europe


It’s been a really interesting project to be a part of – there were over 100 people in the team spread across all 28 member states, so I was a relatively small cog in the machine. A couple of things have stuck in the mind. It is first of all pretty difficult to position parties accurately. A lot of questions on the profiler were quite nuanced (e.g. I would support green energy even at the cost of higher energy prices, social programmes at the expense of higher taxes, etc.). However contemporary political parties won’t ever present this nuance: green energy is presented as a way of lowering costs, social programmes can be maintained without tax, etc. Is this something that turns people off contemporary politics, or has it always been this way? Not sure.

My political space

Second, like all such applications euandi presents a purely issue based view of politics – no room for questions of competence, trustworthiness etc. Lots of people are surprised when using it that they are placed with an apparently minor or radical party (and of course many “far right” parties have very left leaning / socialist policies in terms of labour law, employment protection, etc.). Hence the results need to be handled with care and don’t directly replace knowledge of the political system.

Can we boost turnout with such mechanisms, or do they only appeal to those already interested in politics? I think there must be something in it, especially for those undecided or who perhaps want to find about a minor party. Nevertheless I think it’s also pretty clear by now that e-democracy isn’t going to lead to a turnout revolution: rather IMO it’s about nuancing and informing the decisions of those who are already interested.


By |2014-04-28T14:23:16+01:00April 28th, 2014|Research, Social Web|3 Comments

Can social data be used to predict elections?

I’ve just started a new research blog with my colleague Taha Yasseri. Two aims: we want to know if and when social data might be useful in election prediction; we want to see if this knowledge teaches us anything about the political process. It’s also interesting to experiment with the idea of blogging research rather than going the usual journal route (though I imagine a paper or two will result anyway). Much quicker, rougher, but definitely satisfies my urge to do things quickly. We hope it will make the finished output better as well.

all-wikipedia-euelections article-2

The above image is an excerpt from the first post, on electoral information seeking in 19 different countries. We find that, essentially, people look for information much more after the election has already finished than before, probably in response to the election itself as a media event.

I’ll be cross posting a bit more as the blog develops.