In general terms, Nick's research focuses on the relationship between existing political institutions and new media, covering such topics as:
- The impact of the Internet on politics and government, especially e-campaigning
- Electoral competition and political campaigns
- The history and future development of political parties
- Political mobilisation and encouraging participation in civil society
Political institutions, campaigns and new media
Nick's PhD thesis was titled A Comparative Study of Factors Influencing the Adoption and Impact of E-Campaigning in the United States and the United Kingdom. The central question it aimed to address was the differing impact that the internet seemed to be having on electoral politics in the US and the UK. In the former case, high profile candidates, such as Howard Dean and Barack Obama, seem to have made the internet a central part of their campaigns, while in Britain use of new technology seems to be far more limited. Nick argued this divergence was the result of American political institutions, notably parties, primary elections and campaign finance law, which were better able to adapt to the new environment. In contrast, British political institutions are highly centralised and more risk averse.
Nick continues to work in this area, examining the evolution of campaigns and parties in the evolving political environment. Working with Mike Jensen of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Nick is currently examining a large scale dataset of diverse media from the 2010 British General Election. In particular, they are interested in the interaction between the national and local level of campaigning, as well as the speed that information travels between the two.
The evolution of broadcast media
Technologies like Twitter give citizens the ability to comment on events as they happen. Working with Ben O'Loughlin, from Royal Holloway College, University of London, Nick started to think about the impact this might be having. In particular, they became interested in the emergence of what they termed the Viewertariat - viewers who are commenting and analysing in real time.
As a preliminary case study of this development, they gathered more than 40,000 tweets from the broadcast period of the BBC Question Time of October 22nd 2009. This episode was particularly significant, as it featured Nick Griffin, leader of the far right BNP. Their provisional working paper was published in February 2010.
In the future, Ben and Nick will be using the BBC Question Time sample to engage in a more in-depth content analysis, as well as applying the same techniques (and others) to understand the Prime Ministerial debates in the 2010 General Election.
Theorising democracy in the digital era
Working with Michael Bacon, an expert on Pragmatic philosophy at Royal Holloway College, University of London, Nick is currently trying to develop new ways of thinking about democracy online. One of the most important strands in new thinking about political participation - in large part driven by the development of the internet - is the emerging idea of deliberative democracy. However, practitioners of this approach tend to rely on highly regulated "laboratory style" environments, which are hard to replicate in the real world. Their response to these problems is to draw heavily on the writing of American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952). While he is widely regarded as a father-figure for modern deliberative democrats, Dewey also strongly believed in the "democracy of the everyday" - specifically, that political life should be grounded in people's experiences and associations. Michael and Nick argue that modern online democracy practitioners would do well to remember this and should make it a central part of their institutional designs.
In 2009, Nick co-edited (with Will Straw) the Fabian Society pamphlet The Change We Need , which aimed to understand the lessons British politics could learn from Barack Obama's presidential election victory in the US. In contrast to other discussions taking place at the time, which advocated a simple emulation of American strategies, their argument was British party institutions had to be fundamentally altered to become compatible with the information age. As well as featuring a Foreword from the then Prime Minster Gordon Brown, this publication received widespread national press attention, including coverage from the The Times, The Guardian, Sky News and the Today programme.