Research Design

Qualitative research requires as much planning as quantitative survey research.  Serious consideration must be given to the research question and why qualitative research is the best method for data collection. It should be informed by previous research and consideration must be given to how the questions are worded and how they are ordered.  Even the most open-ended grounded theory research must be carefully considered and structured to maximise data collection.

This page provides documentation on the research design of the Qualitative Election Study of Britain.  It includes the original grant proposal submitted to the British Academy.

Research proposal (see attached .pdf for full details):

As national election occur every four or five years, the timing of this research is especially important. My research investigates the ways in which sex and gendered perspectives influence political preferences. This grant would augment my BAPDF data collection. I will conduct interviews and focus groups to collect data on attitudes and opinions in advance of the 2010 general election. Given my current budget I am able to conduct two pre-election focus groups in the south of England. This funding will provide for additional focus group participants; focus groups in Scotland and Wales; and re-convening participants for post-election focus groups in England, Scotland and Wales. Any in-person/telephone interviews will be funded out of my BAPFD research budget.

The focus groups will explore topics relevant to my postdoctoral research agenda; however, the data collected would also be relevant to other researchers. The aim is to generate data that will: 1) provide insights into the opinions of citizens on politicians, party leaders, political issues and perceptions of civic duty, political alienation, and political activism before and after the general election; and 2) allow analysis of the meaning that underlies their assessments, uncover sources of normative values, make explicit the tacit assumptions participants use to reach their judgements, and possibly identify new research themes.

Methodology: The project will begin in March 2010 and all data will be collected by July 2010. The dates and locations of the focus groups will be determined with the assistance and local expertise of Dr. Rob Johns (Strathclyde) and Professor Roger Scully (Aberystwyth) who have agreed to assist with the logistics and contribute questions related to Scottish and Welsh national politics. I will recruit participants in person. Potential participants will be required to fill out a questionnaire detailing their demographic information. Individuals will be invited to attend in order to broadly reflect the British population. A small incentive will be offered (£25) to increase participation rates and the 90 minute focus groups will take place in the evening to allow full-time workers to participate. Those who are selected will be provided with written information to explain informed consent and the procedures used to ensure their anonymity. These details and forms will be reviewed again verbally at the start of each focus group. The interview schedules
will be semi-structured in order to guide the data collection but allow enough flexibility to explore relevant tangents. Individuals may be identified for follow-up phone interviews.

Pre-election participants will be invited to participate in a post-election focus group. The aim is to reconvene the pre-election participants (with top-ups of new participants if necessary) to investigate perceptions of the election results, discussions about national turnout rates, and attitudes toward the newly elected government. Individuals will not be asked to reveal vote choice.Various forms of qualitative analysis (including but not limited to narrative, thematic, and content analysis) will be applied to the data to investigate the topics and themes mentioned above.

The focus groups will be recorded with digital and audio equipment. Transcriptions will be produced for textual analysis. The video, audio and written data will be filed with the UK Data Archive with the appropriate confidentiality requirements.

Plan of action:

Assuming a spring (May or June) general election:

Nov 2009- Mar 2010: Submit study design for ethics approval within Department of Government; reserve conference rooms and recording equipment in England, Scotland and Wales; designed participant recruitment strategies, develop the screening questionnaire and design information packets (including explanation of ethical practice and data protection) for selected participants; develop the semistructured interview schedule in conjunction with local experts.

Mar – Apr 2010: Travel to locations and over-recruit participants; screen to ensure demographic diversity; identify individuals relevant for my post-doctoral research for follow-up interviews. Confirm date, time, and location with selected respondents by letter and reminder phone calls in the days before the focus groups.

Apr – May 2010: Conduct pre-election focus groups; begin preliminary data analysis and identify themes for follow-up in post-election research; conduct phone interviews; develop interview schedule for post-election focus group data collection; produce written transcripts.

May – Jun 2010: Conduct post-election focus groups as soon as possible after the general election; produce written transcripts; conduct one-on-one interviews with identified participants.

May – Dec 2010: Analyze all pre-election and post-election data; begin writing monograph; present findings at relevant conferences; prepare data for deposit with the UK Data Archive.

Full 2010 Application Proposal (.pdf)

Post award report to the British Academy

Amount of research carried out: 

The aim of the Qualitative Election Study of Britain (QES Britain) was to record and analyze the views and concerns of British citizens before and after the 2010 General Election. It was the first systematic attempt to gather focus group transcripts from England, Scotland and Wales for the data needs of qualitative researchers. This study also makes a contribution toward qualitative research more generally by broadly replicating a previous research project on the same topic (Winters and Campbell 2007).

Fourteen focus groups were conducted in the weeks before and after the 2010 General Election (pre-election: three in Essex, two in London, two in Wales and two in Scotland; and post-election: two groups in Essex, and one each in London, Wales, and Scotland) with a total of 76 participants . The participants were recruited through e-mail invitations using local university’s internal e-mail advertising service, through snowballing referrals, and recruitment off the street. Participants were then invited to attend in order to get a wide distribution of ages and to ensure gender parity.

The sessions were recorded using audio and video equipment, participants were given and talked through an informed consent form. Transcripts using the audio and video recordings were created, anonymised and made available on the project blog and through the UK Data Archive where all the original materials have been deposited.

Advances in knowledge or understanding

The data complements and provides missing context to quantitative analysis. The first results, produced from data gathered during the three live debates, used using grounded theory methods, discourse analysis, and a visual representation of the conceptual structure to produce unique pictures of the three main party leaders: although recognizing his failure as a leader, many participants viewed Gordon Brown with empathy and viewed his mistakes through a ‘human’ lens; David Cameron’s widely regarded leadership qualities were also offset by perceptions of his being untrustworthy, arrogant and slick although on balance he came out ahead of his two rivals on the all-important leadership category; and perceptions of participants about the viability of Nick Clegg does not change significantly despite the bounce in support following the first Leaders’ Debate.

In addition the transcripts have been analysed to evaluate the stories of people’s vote choices. The evidence suggests that people are very aware, and constrained, by the partisan dynamics of their constituencies. A far more sophisticated model of voting is suggested by the narrative analysis of people’s election day experiences than is suggested by quantitative data.


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