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Introduction to CREST

The Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends is a research centre jointly based at the National Centre for Social Research in London and the Department of Sociology, University of Oxford.  Having evolved from a successful programme of collaboration between the National Centre and researchers at the University of Oxford since 1983, CREST was founded in 1994.  The Co-Directors of CREST are Professor Anthony Heath (University of Oxford) and Alison Park (national Centre) and the Deputy Director is Professor John Curtice (University of Strathclyde).

CREST’s work relies on the conduct and interpretation of high quality social surveys of the general public, designed to document and explain changing patterns of political and social attitudes, identities and behaviour.  CREST also develops and encourages improved methods of measuring attitudes and behaviour.  CREST was responsible for the 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1997 British Election Surveys and its members are closely involved with the British Social Attitudes surveys.  Its current work addresses four main questions:

  1. What have been the implications of devolution within the UK for national identities and political behaviour in the four territories?
  2. Are traditional social identities, such as class and party identities, in decline?  What are the implications of any such decline for patterns of social attitudes and political behaviour?
  3. In what ways is British national identity changing and how do conceptions of British identity differ from those in other developed countries?
  4. How can one improve the cross-national comparability of measures of social attitudes and identities?

CREST has an extensive working paper series to disseminate early research findings.  Members of CREST also regularly publish articles in academic journals and have published a number of books and reports for government.  Details of recent articles can be found on the recent publications page.


1. Why do people vote the way they do?

British Election Panel Studies

Elections, the cornerstones of any democracy, are a primary focus of CREST's attention and analysis. In Britain at any rate, general elections are often won or lost well before the campaign proper starts. So, as well as interviewing voters during or after elections, CREST has set up the British Election Panel Study (BEPS), which follows a panel of voters - interviewing them every six months or so - throughout the course of a parliament.

The first BEPS studied voters from the 1992 General Election through to the 1997 General Election. In between April 1992 and May 1997 a random sample of people were asked about their attitudes towards the political events occurring in the lifetime of the 1992-1997 Conservative Government. This survey was the most ambitious of its kind ever to be conducted. In total eight surveys took place and the results they provided have given us a large amount of new information about the British public and British politics.

A second BEPS, studying a new sample of voters from the 1997 General Election through to the next General Election, is currently in progress will allow us to assess changes in voters' attitudes and opinions through the course of the present Labour government. For more information about the BEPS follow the links below:

British Election Studies

BEPS is able to tell us why and when individual voters change their minds between one election and the next, but it cannot tell us about long term shifts in the electorate's political attitudes and voting behaviour. That role is fulfilled by the British Election Studies (BES), which have recorded how people have voted at every election since 1964. Submitted to the ESRC in 1998, The Future of the British Election Studies outlines the objectives of the BES according the directors of CREST. (The 2001 British Election Study is based at the University of Essex).

Questionnaires used for the 1992 BES and 1997 BES can be downloaded from the CREST questionnaire link on this website. (The sample and questionnaires for the 1992 and 1997 BES are also the baseline for the 1992-97 and 1997-2001 British Election Panel Studies).

Other Voting Studies

During a time of considerable constitutional change in Britain, CREST is collaborating with experts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on ESRC-funded studies of their referendums and elections. In 1997, the Centre also conducted the first ever specialist survey research project of ethnic minority voting in the UK. Finally, CREST also conducted the 2000 London Mayoral Study. The questionnaires from all these studies are freely available on this website.

Some CREST findings on voting behaviour:

2. How are social attitudes changing?

Democratic societies need good information about their changing social values if their governments are to be able to respond effectively. The National Centre's annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey series has been tracking public attitudes in Britain since 1983, providing CREST with an invaluable tool with which to monitor and interpret the speed and direction of value change. Each annual nationwide survey covers an extensive range of topics including health, education, social security, employment, taxation, law and order, moral issues, Europe and constitutional issues.

1999 English National Identity Study

CREST's English National Identity Study was included as a module in the 1999 BSA survey. The questionnaire for the study can be found on the questionnaire page of this website.

Some CREST findings on social attitudes:

3. How does Britain differ from other countries in its social attitudes and political behaviour?

One of the best ways of understanding and explaining our own political culture is to compare it with that in other countries. CREST does this through the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), which comprises around 30 countries worldwide who collaborate in the design, conduct and analysis of a simultaneous annual survey on a rotating set of subjects - identifying and explaining national differences and tracking trends.

Similarly, CREST participates in the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), which brings together electoral scholars in many countries, and in an EU-funded network of centres of electoral research. CREST staff are also active in the European Science Foundation's development project for a European social survey.

Some CREST findings from its cross-national research:

4. How can we best measure people's social attitudes and political behaviour?

All survey research data are prone to errors and biases, but they can be minimised by rigorous design, implementation and analysis. One of CREST's core activities is the conduct of trials and experiments that employ different and often innovative measurement techniques in order to inform and improve both our own work and that of others. CREST staff contribute to statistical journals and conferences and continue to make inroads into seemingly intractable problems of measuring underlying values.

The Economic and Social Research Council is the UK'ís leading research agency for the social sciences. It is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by central government. Its mission is to provide high quality research to help government, business and the public understand and improve the UK'ís economic performance, public policy and quality of life.

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