Since 1987, the Australian Election Study (AES) at the ANU has mounted a major national public opinion survey at each federal election. The data collected are used for academic research on Australian electoral behaviour and public opinion. The surveys are made freely available to the academic community through the Australian Social Science Data Archive (ASSDA, see http://assda.anu.edu.au/).
The AES routinely collects data among a nationally representative sample of voters and among major party candidates standing for election. Both the voter and candidate instruments combine a common set of questions. The AES is mounted as a collaborative exercise between several Australian universities and is led by Professor Ian McAllister. The first survey was funded by a consortium of universities; most of the subsequent surveys have been funded by the Australian Research Council.
Each of the eight surveys conducted to date has had a central theme:
The Environment and Environmentalism
National Identity and Citizenship
Constitution, Rights and Minorities
Challenges to Governance
The Decline of Political Parties
The Dynamics of Political Choice
The AES is the Australian member of a broad international collaboration in election studies that includes almost all of the major democracies. In 1998 the AES was a founding member of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) group which now includes more than 55 democracies (see http://cses.org/).
The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems is a coordinated comparative project that enables the systematic analysis of electoral behavior under globally varying institutional conditions. Established in 1996 and funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Germany, the CSES coordinates the operation of more than 55 national election studies across the world. This approach ensures that information about citizens' behavior and attitudes gathered at each site is comparable. Information about the institutional arrangements that characterize each participating country is also collected, also in comparable form.
The CSES project is based on the premise that institutional arrangements governing the conduct of elections affect the nature and quality of democratic choice. Only through the kind of comparative analysis that CSES makes possible, where comparable samples of citizens are observed with comparable instruments under different institutional settings, can the impact of institutions be evaluated. Only through genuinely comparative analysis can the merits and shortcomings of different democratic arrangements be discovered.
Ian McAllister has been Chair of the 20-member CSES Planning Committee since 2003.