Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

2010 British General Election Leader Evaluations: Replicating Electoral Focus Group Research

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

2010 British General Election Leader Evaluations: Replicating Electoral Focus Group Research

Article excerpt

Introduction

In Britain, a national election survey has been conducted during each general election since 1964. These datasets provide an invaluable resource for quantitative researchers interested in voting behaviour and vote choice. Survey data allow statistical analyses to identify the driving factors in electoral outcomes. However, a similar source of data does not exist for qualitative researchers since qualitative data has not been produced alongside each British Election Study (BES). (1) Election data for qualitative researchers would have been limited to a single pre-election open textbox question in the Internet version of the survey where participants wrote responses in their own words. (2) This is not an adequate data source for qualitative researchers who wish to analyse the language and reasoning of participants.

The Qualitative Election Study of Britain (QES Britain) addresses this lack of appropriate qualitative data and establishes a protocol for the inclusion of a qualitative research component into national election studies (Winters, 2011). This paper reports on the result of a QES data analysis of our participants' perceptions of British party leaders. It contributes to the qualitative analysis literature in two ways: (a) it adds to the short list of published British studies using qualitative electoral data, and (b) it is the first example of replicated qualitative electoral research in Britain. This paper makes a contribution to the use of grounded theory by adding a new dimension for analysis: concept salience. Below we will present the frequency of our axial categories, thereby illustrating which qualities were most prevalent in our participants' evaluations.

The leader evaluation component of the QES Britain broadly replicates a 2005 focus group study on British party leader evaluations but includes some modifications (Winters & Campbell, 2007). We asked participants to code their assessments for each man as positive, negative and neutral (instead of the researchers) and using participant-led coding, we visually represent the key leadership dimensions for each. This provides a unique evaluation structure grounded in the dimensions of participants' evaluations. Our data were generated during focus groups that were conducted before and after three televised leaders' debates between them. Based on our analysis we conclude that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was primarily defined by his failings as a political leader and a lack of people skills. Conservative party leader (and now Prime Minister) David Cameron's leadership qualities received positive ratings; however they were balanced by perceptions of his being smug and untrustworthy. Nick Clegg, the recently-elected Liberal Democrat leader was seen as honest and "normal" but that was balanced against concerns over his inexperience.

The Qualitative Election Study of Britain (3)

The aim of the QES Britain was to record and analyse the views and concerns of British citizens before and after the 2010 general election. (4) It was the first systematic attempt to gather focus group data in England, Scotland and Wales for the needs of qualitative researchers. The QES Britain data allows us to contextualize the findings from the quantitative national election study and provides a contemporary account of people's concerns in the form of video/audio recordings and anonymised transcripts for future researchers.

The QES Britain transcripts provide data where quantitative research is deficient, namely that surveys do not provide high-quality data in the form of language to analyse "how people use language in their everyday interactions, their "discourses" with each other, and how they...put their linguistic skills to use in building specific accounts of events" (Burr, 2003, p. 17). The goal of the QES Britain was to generate thick, rich qualitative data for analysis of citizens' opinions of politicians, party leaders, political issues, civic duty, political alienation, and the partisan campaigns both before and after the general election. …

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