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2019/20 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

PIED5737M Elections and Voters

30 creditsClass Size: 15

Module manager: Professor Jocelyn Evans

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

In this module, we explore the different theories used in psephology (the study of voting behaviour) and their application in modelling individual voter choice, including the principal sociological, psychological and economic models of voting. Taking into account contextual influences on voting – for example, campaigns, electoral systems and party systems – we look to construct the so-called ‘full model’ of voting, applicable to any competitive electoral race. We focus particularly on contemporary examples of voting, including ‘unique’ examples, such as Brexit and Trump, as well as other archetypal post-war elections. By the end of the module, you will be able to build simple but powerful explanatory models of voting, and understand how to apply these using a range of electoral and socio-economic data.


This module introduces students to the main theories and models used in psephology (the study of voting). It considers the competing explanations of how voters make their choices in elections, looking at the individual and contextual influences which may have a bearing on their party support. In particular, it focuses on how voters process information and prioritise ideological and pragmatic considerations in their decision whether and how to vote.
The module focuses on contemporary voting developments (polarization, disengagement, populism) and looks to examine these through the lens of traditional voting theories which still offer strong analytical value for modern electoral phenomena.
The module specifically expects students to engage with the modelling of voting behaviour (i.e. the application of theory), and will demonstrate how rigorous empirical analysis of voting is necessary to understanding voters’ motivations, and thereby election outcomes.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

1. Regonise and critically discuss the principal theories of voting behaviour;
2. understand the mechanical effects of electoral laws, and voters’ interaction with these;
3. apply electoral theories to a range of country-cases and comparatively;
4. conceptualise simple empirical tests to voting data to demonstrate causal relationships in voting;
5. explain the findings of more sophisticated statistical models of voting found in the secondary literature;
6. construct a range of testable hypotheses as part of the ‘full model’ of voting.


The syllabus will cover topics such as:

- Why do we study voting behaviour?
- The historical development of voting studies.
- Electoral systems: how institutions process choice, and how voters process institutions
- Cleavage structures and socio-structural explanations of voting.
- Rational choice theories: do voters choose?
- Abstention: causes and explanations.
- Spatial and issue models
- Electoral supply and demand: party system dynamics and areas of electoral competition
- Economic voting and the VP-function
- Forecasting elections.
- Campaigns and (social) media
- Deconstructing the populist wave

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours11.00
Private study hours267.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Students will be expected to carry out significant study of secondary sources before each class. Students will also be expected to carry out background reading for country- and election-cases and prepare simple voting models for discussion before seminars. They will also be expected to read brief synopses and worksheets for the week’s topics before class, to facilitate critical discussion in the seminar. Additional readings of topical applications of voting theory will also be posted on the VLE when appropriate.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will submit an early, non-assessed version of their essay of up to 2000 words for a mid-term review. They will then use the feedback to develop their essay into a final 4000 word version which will be assessed and submitted at the end of term. The mid-term MCQ will help to consolidate students’ knowledge of key concepts and arguments from the basic voting theories before moving on to more applied models.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/04/2019


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