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Behind the curtain – research aims to discover what really happens in the polling booth

An extensive new programme of research into the psychology of why people vote the way they do in elections will be led by Dr Michael Bruter from the Government Department with an award of €1.2 million from the European Research Council.

The research will aim to capture what goes on in the minds of voters as – and just before – they vote. The research will explore voters' perceptions of their civic responsibility, the memories they have of previous elections and the psychological mechanisms at stake when making an electoral decision.

Dr Bruter said: 'It is extraordinary how little political scientists know about what goes on in the minds of voters while they are in the secrecy of the polling booth, form in hand, ready to cast their vote in what is probably the most intense moment of civic communion between a citizen and a democracy.'

Seven countries – the USA, the UK, Australia, France, Spain, Austria and Hungary –  will be covered by the research. It will be undertaken using cross-cutting methodologies such as mass surveys, repeat interviews, experiments focus groups and direct observation.

Dr Bruter said: 'The field of electoral psychology has been largely abandoned by political scientists for decades. The vast amount of electoral research undertaken in recent times has been mostly devoted to the exploration of the context of elections. It's high time the individual was brought back into our understanding of the vote.

'This work will aim to provide a new voter-centric definition of electoral identity and participation by improving our understanding of the psychological mechanisms that channel political protest and cynicism.'

Part of the grant money will be used to create a new research structure at the LSE which will be the only one of its kind in Europe. It will organise a series of monthly seminars with prestigious guest speakers, annual research workshops and two large international conferences to be held in 2010 and 2014. The new structure will also benefit LSE students with some fully-funded PhDs and lectures by prominent international scholars. The seminar series will have yearly themes such as electoral psychology and referenda, the decision of 'last minute' voters and the political psychology of protest.

The project received the highest mark amongst thousands of applications from different disciplines in a European Union competition designed to support cutting edge research. The award recognises Dr Bruter as a promising young scholar at the forefront of political science.


For more information contact LSE Press Office on 020 7955 7060