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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

British Election Study Ethnic Minority Survey

Grant reference: RES-062-23-1953-A

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Impact Report details

The Ethnic Minority British Election Survey
The 2010 Ethnic Minority British Election Survey (EMBES) was the first major stand-alone survey in Britain of ethnic minority electoral behaviour and political integration. It was closely harmonised with the main British Election Survey, in order to provide comparisons with the white British majority group. The study has generated an important new resource for social scientists and many new and authoritative findings about ethnic minority attitudes and political behaviour, generational differences, and between- and within-ethnic variation.

Primary contributor

Author Anthony Heath

Additional contributors

Co-author David Sanders
Co-author Stephen Fisher
Co-author Maria Sobolewska


The project has created a new and authoritative scientific resource for the study of ethnicity in contemporary Britain. The survey is a high-quality probability sample, with an excellent response rate and coverage, a relatively large sample size (2787 respondents) and a wide range of new questions enabling a much richer understanding of ethnic minorities in Britain today. The data are already being used by senior scholars, postdocs and graduate students to study a range of substantive topics including political orientations, social and national identities, religiosity, and social integration as well as registration, turnout, voting behaviour and political participation. The innovative design of the survey, with its cluster-based stratification spread across a range of areas with different levels of ethnic composition and over 90% coverage, provides an important contribution to the development of survey methodology while the use of doorstep screening to identify minorities and the use of incentives to achieve a good response rate from difficult-to-reach populations provides important positive lessons for future surveys of minorities. The study has generated many new empirical findings, as well as confirming results from previous research, on a wide range of substantive topics which we have disseminated through journal articles and conference presentations. A particular strength of our research is that we are able to compare the five main established minorities in Britain with each other and with a white British comparison group (derived from the main BES), as well as examining within-group and generational variation. Our forthcoming book has synthesized our findings and developed new theoretical approaches for understanding ethnic minority political integration. The data are also being used by a range of senior, early-career academics, doctoral and masters students and this additional work has also generated important new findings.

A major output is the survey itself together with the technical report and the archived dataset. Other outputs include presentations at a range of academic conferences and workshops in Britain, Europe and the USA, articles for refereed journals, and a book which was submitted to the publishers, Oxford University Press, in December 2012. Major findings that have already been disseminated include: Registration and turnout: we validated respondents’ reports of their registration and turnout. This showed that the major shortfall among minorities is in registration. Among those who were registered, turnout was similar to the white British comparison group. Partisanship and voting behaviour: we show that minorities continue predominantly to support the Labour Party and also exhibited greater loyalty to Labour in that they were less likely to defect to other parties at the 2010 general election than were other sections of the electorate. We developed a new theoretical approach to understanding minority/majority differences in partisanship, adopting a multilevel approach that takes account not only of individual characteristics but also of properties of each ethno-religious group. We interpret these properties as reflections of group norms and sentiments. Heterogeneity: with our large sample size and comparative design we have been able to show important differences between and within minorities. This is particularly evident in policy preferences (eg on the war in Afghanistan, cultural rights and immigration). We have also identified heterogeneity in the social bases of voting, with variables such as class and housing tenure influencing ethnic minorities differently from the white majority. We also show that minorities’ vote calculus, while bearing important similarities to whites’, cannot be understood without also considering cultural integration and perceptions of discrimination.

The impacts have been achieved through an active programme of dissemination. We held a data workshop for potential users which was attended by senior scholars, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. This introduced the key features of the dataset, the opportunities that it provided for analysis, as well as arrangements for accessing the data. Many of the participants have subsequently used the data for their own research. We have presented our results at a wide range of invited lectures, seminars, workshops and conferences in Britain, Europe and America, including the CES, EPOP, PSA, ECPR and APSA annual conferences. We have given presentations both of substantive findings and on methodological aspects (such as a presentation on the survey design at the Research Methods Festival). We have also published one journal article already (in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties), have two further articles accepted for publication (in Parliamentary Affairs and in Political Studies), have three further articles submitted for publication, and submitted the manuscript of our book to Oxford University Press at the end of 2012. We are also guest-editing a special issue of the leading specialist journal Ethnic and Racial Studies, inviting a range of scholars to contribute articles on generational change. While we did not require scholars to use the EMBES data, several contributors to the special issue have taken the opportunity to do so. Contributors have used the data to explore generational change in structural (labour market) integration and employment in the ethnic enclave, ethnic, national and religious identities, patterns of social relationships and intermarriage, attitudes towards the political system, multiculturalism, support for protest, political participation and overall political integration.

Our findings and outputs have already had an impact on scholars and students working in the field of ethnic minority political behaviour, particularly on those who are now using the data themselves (such as the contributors to the special issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies - Prof Lucinda Platt, Dr Sin Yi Cheung, Prof David Voas and Dr Siobhan McAndrew) and others, such as Dr Ben Clements. We have also been contacted by other scholars who plan to use the data. The data are also being used for teaching purposes, eg at Royal Holloway for teaching methods of research, and are the major bases of on-going doctoral theses (to our knowledge at both Oxford and Manchester but very likely elsewhere too) and some completed master’s dissertations (at the University of Manchester). Considerable interest has been shown by colleagues overseas, especially in North America, in the potential which these data offer for cross-national research, comparing the experience of minorities in different political contexts. We have already held initial discussions with potential collaborators. While it is too early to expect citations of our work (most of which is forthcoming), we note that a number of recent publications on ethnic minority integration by leading authorities such as Saggar, Saalfeld and Dobbernack have already cited our first paper.

The project has helped to inform and shape public debate about how different political parties appeal differently to different ethnic groups, most especially how the Conservatives are still much less likely to appeal to ethnic minority voters. There have been press articles discussing EMBES data in conjunction with this debate, for example in the Economist. “Bagehot: David Cameron’s race problem.” (3rd March 2012). This finding also informed the making of a Radio 4 episode of their programme Analysis: ‘A New Black Politics?’ aired on 6th November 2011. Our findings on electoral registration have been drawn on by the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office in developing their proposals for the planned move to individual electoral registration. The EMBES data and our research have also informed the Government Office for Science’s (GO-S) project on ‘the future of identity’. In particular our findings on generational change in religious identities, on the role of relative deprivation and perceived discrimination on ethnic and British identity, and of second-generation dissatisfaction with British democracy have helped shape the GO-S report's discussion of the key opportunities and challenges for government over the next ten years and the implications for policy. The GO-S report isdue for publication in January 2013. Our work on multiculturalism, and in particular the finding that all main minorities alike are showing similar rates of social and political integration across generations (albeit from very different starting points), has informed public debate on multiculturalism and has brought rigorous empirical evidence to bear on a controversial public issue.

The details of the vote shares going to the different parties,the extent to which this has changed over time, and the differences within and between ethnic groups, have been of particular interest to users. We have confirmed that Labour voting is higher among the Black groups,that support for the Liberal Democrats is higher among people of Pakistani background,and that people of Indian background are the group giving the most support to the Conservatives. Within the Indian group we have shown that there are significant class and religious differences, with middle-class Hindus having the highest level of Conservative voting. On registration we have found considerable differences between minorities in their rates of registration, their reasons for non-registration, and whether someone else in the household registered the respondent. Our research on generational change in ethnic, religious and national identity has shown that processes of secularization have been occurring in all the main ethnic minorities, that the second generation (who were born in Britain) were more likely to have British(or dual ethnic and British) identities but that changed frames of reference, leading the second generation to compare themselves with their white British contemporaries,also leads some disadvantaged second-generation groups to be more aware of discrimination and less satisfied with the political process, with important potential implications for integration and social cohesion. We have also shown that the first generation tend to have higher levels of satisfaction with democracy, greater commitment to civic duty,and greater trust in government than do the white British, although at the same time they are more oriented to the politics of their homeland and have less knowledge and interest in British politics. Across generations however there is convergence with British patterns with declining trust on the one hand but also increasing interest and knowledge on the other.

These impacts were achieved, firstly, through two user workshops that we held, one in conjunction with the Runnymede Trust in London and one with QED-UK in Bradford. In addition members of the team gave briefings about our research and their implications for electoral politics to the Conservative Party 1922 Committee Executive at the House of Commons, to Dominic Grieve MP, Attorney General, to the Conservative Party Head of Policy and his senior colleagues at Number 10, to the Centre for Social Justice, to the Institute for Government, to the Government Equalities Office and to staff from the DCLG. We have also given briefings to journalists (eg Kelvin Mackenzie of the Daily Mail, Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman, Leala Padmanabhan for Westminster Hour and Hannah Barnes for BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme). Online briefing papers and a video have been uploaded on the Runnymede Trust’s website and we published an article online for the Guardian’s Comment is Free column. This attracted considerable attention from members of the public with several hundred comments posted. We have also held private meetings with members of ethnic minority organisations such as Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote. The Electoral Commission has been a collaborating partner with the EMBES project from the outset, and this ensured that our work was successfully disseminated within the Commission, in particular by our colleague Gemma Rosenblatt, the EC’s director of research. In addition our research has been drawn on extensively by the GO-S in connection with their Foresight Project on the future of identity. The GO-S commissioned academic scholars to report on likely trends in ethnic and national identities and religious identities, and their papers drew heavily on EMBES data. Professor Heath is also a member of the GO-S’s lead expert group for this project and has drawn out policy implications from the EMBES research for inclusion in the report on the future of identity.

The findings and outputs have had an impact on third sector organizations such as QED-UK and the Runnymede Trust, which has publicized and disseminated our research and has joined us as a partner in our Online Data Centre. It has also had an impact on the Electoral Commission, which has been a collaborating partner of our research. Other impacts have been on the Government Office for Science, which has drawn extensively on our research in their Foresight Programme. We have also had impacts on the media and journalists and on political parties and other think-tanks as described above.

We anticipate that our forthcoming book for OUP (and the associated journal articles) will make future scientific impacts. We have held discussions with teams from Norway and from Australia to help them prepare grant applications to conduct similar studies in their own countries. We have been informed that the Australian application has been successful, and we will be holding meetings with the team to discuss their survey and possible future collaboration. We hope to continue our involvement with GO-S, DCLG and other government departments in order to achieve future economic and social impacts. We have also been asked to join a group at the OECD working on discrimination. We also hope that our online Data Centre (funded by an ESRC follow-on grant) will further disseminate our findings to a wider user audience. The Data Centre will be launched on 28th January 2013.

While our programme of dissemination was designed to reach journalists and the media, third sector organisations concerned with ethnic issues, and the political parties, we did not anticipate that the research would be so useful to the Government Office for Science. We have also unexpectedly been asked to present our work to the DCLG and expect that there may be potential for further future impacts of this kind.

There were no major scientific difficulties (other than those intrinsic in cross-section survey research) or unexpected scientific problems that have limited our scientific impact. However, it would be desirable, in order to increase scientific impact in the future, to move from cross-sectional research to panel studies of ethnic minority political behaviour.

Cite this outcome


Heath, Anthony et al. British Election Study Ethnic Minority Survey: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-1953-A. Swindon: ESRC


Heath Anthony et al. British Election Study Ethnic Minority Survey: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-1953-A. Swindon: ESRC.