PhD Studentship Vacancy

White Rose-ESRC Collaborative PhD Studentship on the Politics of Polling

Closing date for applications: 18th March 2016

The Department of Politics, the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics and YouGov are pleased to offer a fully funded PhD research opportunity as part of the White Rose Collaborative Studentship programme within the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre (WRDTC).

Picture of the Elmfield buildingThis collaborative studentship will give a graduate with an outstanding Masters in the social sciences the opportunity to conduct a PhD project focused on the world of political polling. Working with the polling company YouGov, the successful candidate will investigate the production, interpretation and promotion of polling, producing both new academic insights and research reports for YouGov.

The project combines a unique opportunity to combine qualitative and quantitative methods, and academic and practitioner study. The successful candidate will be given the chance to gain extensive training via the White Rose network, will be an active member of the Crick Centre’s research community and will work within YouGov; being provided with the opportunity to design and conduct polling to the value of £20,000, given desk space for a year at YouGov, a rolling programme of YouGov mentoring and opportunities to write reports for YouGov. It is therefore ideal for a candidate interested in acquiring academic and practitioner expertise.

The overarching focus on the PhD Studentship has been designed by the supervisors in consultation with YouGov (see below). The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop the project in line with their own interests and methodological preferences in consultation with their supervisors.

Project Description

The PhD is designed to make a timely intervention into debates around the roll of polling companies in political debate. With the much publicised failure of pollsters to predict the 2015 General Election outcome correctly and the recent Lords debate on the Regulation of Political Opinion Polling Bill, attention has been focused on the operation of political polling.

Academic Focus:
Existing studies have offered informative insights into the mechanics of polling and the rise of e-polling, but limited attention has been directed to the human aspect of polling; considering not the mechanics of how polls are run, but rather the human decisions that affect how questions are posed, interpreted and publicised. Such questions are vital as they have the potential to reveal the selective use of information, the deployment of polling for political ends and the degree of congruence between findings and the story told with findings. The project will therefore explore the dynamics of the relationship within YouGov, with clients and with the press. These insights are vital in seeking to understand how public understanding of politics is developed via polling and what forces are influential in shaping attitudes.

This project has three objectives:

  1. To provide new empirical data on how polling companies operate. This will update existing studies of polling, with a specific focus on the role of the internet in political polling (Broughton, 1998).
  2. To provide, through participant observation and interviews, new empirical data on the norms that govern the politics of polling organisations. As such it will enable analysis of the interaction between clients and pollsters, the networks used by polling companies to promote their findings, and the translation of polling via the media.
  3. To generate new data on the relationship between polling and the public understanding of politics by engaging in theoretical analysis and conducting survey analysis the project will explore the way in which polls affect public perceptions.

This later aim forms the focus of the project, but is facilitated by inquiry at the two earlier levels. Prevailing conceptions of political polling presume that polling informs political outcomes – i.e. it reflects and then influences political participation. However, the recent General Election result signals that the correlation between polling results and political behaviour is not as straightforward as often presumed. This project considers the dynamics between polling and outcomes to develop new insights on not only what influences political debate, but also how this occurs.

Practitioner Focus:
Underpinning this academic inquiry is a corresponding research agenda that aligns with the interests of YouGov. Formed 15 years ago ‘in a shed in Westminster’, as one staff member put it, YouGov has had phenomenal success in a short space of time. This project offers the company an opportunity to step back and analyse what does and doesn’t work, reviewing the way in which processes and systems have developed and the implications of these strategies. Whilst YouGov have a good understanding of how data is used and disseminated in the political world they are keen to reflect further on the use and production of data, particularly exploring differences between commercial and political work. This project creates the space for such reflection and will produce a wealth of data that will inform YouGov’s strategic organisational development.

Research Design:
The project is designed to draw on a mixed methodology, combining qualitative methods with quantitative analyses. The successful candidate will be provided with training to gain new methodological expertise, but existing experience in the use of quantitative methodologies is desirable. The candidate will be able to play a key role in determining the final methodological approach taken in consultation with their supervisors. It is envisaged that a combination of participant observation, interviews and statistical analysis will be used.

Elmfield.gifApplication Process

The studentship is tenable for three years from 1 October 2016. Applicants should apply for admission to the Department’s PhD programme here.

Applicants should indicate on the application that they wish to be considered for the ‘Politics of Polling ESRC/WRDTC’ studentship.

Applicants are asked to include a short statement as to why they are interested in conducting this PhD, and why they are particularly suitable for this post.

A full standard studentship consists of Home/EU tuition fees (£4,121 in Session 2016/17) for up to three years together with a maintenance grant paid at standard Research Council rates (£14,296 in Session 2016/17) for up to three years and a Research Training Support Grant (£666 pa). EU nationals are eligible but the maintenance grant will be paid only in cases where residency in the UK has been established for 3 years or more prior to the start of the programme of study.

The candidate will be first supervised by Dr Kate Dommett (Department of Politics, University of Sheffield) and second supervised by Professor Charles Pattie (Department of Geography, University of Sheffield). They will also gain mentoring from Joe Twyman (YouGov).

More information

Enquiries about this studentship opportunity should be directed to Dr Kate Dommett at

Please contact our Graduate Research Administrator, Mrs Sarah Cooke at with enquiries about the PhD programme and application process.

White Rose–ESRC Collaborative PhD Studentship on the Politics of Polling

A full standard studentship consists of:

Home/EU tuition fees (£4,121 in Session 2016/17) for up to three years.

Maintenance grant paid at standard Research Council rates (£14,296 in Session 2016/17) for up to three years.

Research Training Support Grant (£666 per annum).

Closing date for applications:
18th March 2016

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