British Election Study (BES)

Alternative Title: 
British General Election Study (BGES)

The British Election Study (BES) series is the longest academic series of nationally representative probability sample surveys in the country. Its purpose is to investigate the changing elements of electoral behaviour in modern Britain and has been conducted after every general election since 1964. As a research project, the British Election Study has 3 general aims:

  • to collect data with a view to describing and explaining the outcome of general elections
  • to analyse long-term changes of political attitudes and behaviour from the early 1960's to the present
  • to organise and make available these data in a form suitable for a wide range of research.

The results of the 2015 British Election Study are available at .

Besides the main election surveys, other datasets have also been produced. For example, some studies have included separate sub-samples for ethnic minorities and areas such as Scotland and Northern Ireland (held at the UK Data Archive), and several inter-election panel studies have been undertaken between 1969 and 2001 that follow the same individuals interviewed in the cross-sectional surveys:

  • British Election Study, 1974-1983 (BES):

The BES was started as a research project at the University of Essex in 1974, to continue the series started by Butler and Stokes. The BES conducted interview surveys following the general elections of February 1974, October 1974 and May 1979. This series also includes a questionnaire survey conducted after the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1975.

  • British General Election Study, 1983-1997 (BGES):

From 1983, the series continued under a slightly changed name conducted jointly by Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR - now the National Centre for Social Research, or NatCen) and Nuffield College Oxford. Prior to 1992 BGES surveys excluded electors living in the five constituencies in the Scottish highlands and islands north of the Caledonian Canal because the small and scattered electorate there could not be interviewed cost-effectively. In the 1992 BGES survey however, these constituencies were included in the sampling frame. Users should note that the Scottish element of the 1992 survey has been down-weighted to form a representative British sample. Researchers wishing to analyse the Scottish sample separately should order SN 3171 General Election in Scotland. The 1997 studies were carried out by the Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends (CREST) in collaboration with Pippa Norris of Harvard University, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Commission for Racial Equality.

  • British Election Study, 2001:

The BES for the 2001 general election (the name was changed again) comprised three main components and two supplementary ones. The first main component comprised a pre- and post-election cross-section survey, and a panel survey. The second consisted of a free-standing 4,500-person 'rolling' election campaign survey, conducted during the general election campaign and the third component comprised a separate election survey conducted in Northern Ireland.

  • British Election Study, 2005:

The principal objectives of the 2005 BES were to study long-term trends in British voting behaviour; explain the election outcome, party choice and turnout; and examine the consequences of elections for the operation of democracy more generally.

  • British Election Study Information System, 1966-present:

Brings together data from all the British Election Studies and British General Election Studies. See British Election Study Information System (BESIS)

Spatial Coverage: 
United Kingdom
Data Creator: 
Time Period: 

Cross-sectional study: each election since 1964.

Time Period: 
December, 1964

Data Publisher:


Machine-readable codebook in Adobe PDF.

File Descriptions: 

1 data file and 4 documentation files (on the Data Library's archived CD-ROM):

  • xsectionagg.por is the SPSS portable file.
  • a4619uab.pdf is a Portable Document Format file.
  • *.txt are citation, SPSS label and readme text files.


File Storage: 

Written to CD-ROM 7/4/03.


SPSS portable file.

UKDA Study Number: 
Data Access: 

Users must register with the UK Data Service, before receiving a copy of data files.

Data from 1964 to 2015 may also be downloaded from .

Edinburgh University users may contact the Data Library at for access to the archived CD-ROM copy of the data.