NSF awards $10 million for American National Election Studies

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $10 million to fund the American National Election Studies (ANES) to study voter participation and decision-making in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, and in the mid-term elections of 2010. IRiSS shares the award with The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), which has conducted the study since 1948. Stanford has served as co-lead of the project since 2005.

"I am delighted that IRiSS will continue to partner with ISR at the University of Michigan in conducting the American National Election Studies,” says Stanford Provost John Etchemendy. “This is the longest running survey of the American people in the social sciences. I congratulate Stanford's political scientists Simon Jackman and Gary Segura on an ambitious proposal and look forward to a successful collaboration."

Jackman and Segura will serve alongside Michigan political scientist Vincent Hutchings as co-principal investigators of the four-year collaborative grant.  The award allows ANES to move in new directions that respond to changing social, economic, and political conditions in American society. Although the major piece of science funded by the grant is a large, face-to-face survey of the American electorate immediately before and after the 2012 presidential election, a series of smaller studies of the electorate will be fielded between now and the summer of 2012.

“There is also a lot of politics happening now, well ahead of the next election,” says Professor Jackman. “The country has its first African-American president, who is pursuing an ambitious policy agenda; troops are committed abroad in two prolonged conflicts; economic recovery is fragile; the presidency and both houses of Congress are in Democratic hands; the possibility of terrorist attacks on the United States remains politically salient. Against this backdrop, we were determined for the ANES to be generating data well ahead of the campaign for the 2012 presidential election.”

The ANES is the longest political time series in the world, with data from every U.S. presidential election since Harry Truman’s unexpected victory in 1948. An online Guide to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior (www. electionstudies.org/nesguide/nesguide.htm) provides easy access to tables and graphs that display the ebb and flow of public opinion, electoral behavior, and choice in American politics over time. Complete data from the study are available for analysis by scholars and political analysts.

The face-to-face interviews with national probability samples of eligible voters will include large numbers of African-Americans and Latinos. States Professor Segura, "African-American and Latino voters represented 22% of the national electorate in 2008 and that number is expected to grow substantially by 2012. Since Democratic candidates rely heavily on minority votes to remain competitive, the growth in this segment of the electorate has the potential to be decisive, and the ANES can and must explore the opinion dynamics in these communities.”

New to the current grant cycle, the ANES will also be conducting a series of internet surveys called the 2010-2012 Evaluations of Government and Society. The overarching theme of the surveys is to gauge political perceptions during one of the most momentous periods in American history. Piloted by Stanford scholars, this new phase of the project breaks new ground for the development of methods for survey research for American public opinion.

“Face-to-face interviewing has many virtues, but is extremely expensive and imposes a limit on the sample sizes that can be fielded, and the precision with which politically interesting phenomena can be measured,” says Professor Jackman. “Surveying via the Internet offers the prospect of considerably larger samples, but there are open questions about representativeness of Internet surveying, and how to port questions to a self-administered Web format. One of our goals is to explore rigorously the tradeoffs between cost, representativeness and precision, generating a knowledge base to guide the design of future studies of public opinion.”

Other topics for all ANES surveys will be selected through submissions to an on-line commons designed to solicit input from a broad range of scholars. These could include questions on the economy, religion, health care, foreign policy and other topics that will emerge on the national scene in the near future.

Stanford’s share of the grant, approximately $3.3 million, is the founding project for the Stanford Center for American Democracy, which will expand the core teaching and research opportunities within the University. This includes the participation of undergraduate and graduate students in research, seminars focused on survey research and the specific uses of the ANES, and in the long-run, a standing program for methods training in survey design & implementation.

The Institute for Research in the Social Sciences seeks to initiate and strengthen interdisciplinary research in the social sciences, to enable Stanford scholars to better understand and confront major domestic and global challenges. Home to four research centers and three major research initiatives, IRiSS facilitates collaborative research of societal significance that effectively promotes scientific research and results.

For more information about the American National Election Studies, visit the study website: http://www.electionstudies.org/