Ivor Crewe on Psephology

Social Science Bites

Oct 3 2014 • 17 mins

Psephology, a word both charming and antiquated, is the study of elections. Ivor Crewe, also charming but not so antiquated, is a studier of elections. The current president of Britain's Academy of Social sciences and the master of Oxford's University College, Crewe has long been a respected voice on politics in the UK, US and elsewhere, as evidenced by the acclaim his recent book with Anthony King, The Blunders of Our Governments, has received.

Here, in conversation with our Nigel Warburton, Crewe marshals that scholarship to divine some salient facts about predicting elections -- an exposition that comes post-Scotland's IndyRef and pre-US midterms. He argues that while current polling attempts to pick a winner, current polling studies is looking for the reason for the result. "The main reason," he explains, "for studying voting patterns – voting behaviour – is to provide a much more accurate account of why elections turned out in the way that they did: why did one party win rather than another?"

Crewe formerly served as vice chancellor of the University of Essex from 1995 to 2007; the Crewe Lecture Hall at Essex is named for him and he was the founding director of its Institute of Social and Economic Research. He also edited or co-edited the British Journal of Political Science for more than 15 years.

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