The Department is saddened to learn that alumnus and political scientist Sir David Butler (1943, PPE and DPhil in Politics) has died at the age of 98.
Sir David was a former BBC election analyst and figurehead of the broadcaster’s election night coverage over the years, analysing results on air from its first televised event in 1950 through to 1979.
He was famed for creating the ‘Swingometer’, a device highlighting vote preference changes, and crowned the ‘father of psephology’ – a term used to describe the study of election science based on the Greek word ‘psephos’ for pebble, which ancient Greeks used to vote.
His interest in politics and academia developed from an early age and he joined the Conservative, Labour and Liberal clubs shortly after arriving at New College, Oxford in 1942 to study PPE. He broke from his studies to serve in the forces during the Second World War.
Sir David wrote many publications, his most notable being the series of Nuffield Election Studies which covers every United Kingdom General Election since 1945.
In later years he had a strong involvement with Nuffield College where he was an Emeritus Fellow, researcher and academic and founded the British Election Study in the early 1960s – which the college continues to this day.
It has become the longest running social science survey in Britain and its work builds very heavily on his early insights.
Professor Jane Green, Director of the Nuffield Politics Research Centre, said: “His own work demonstrated a deep understanding of both the theoretical basis of electoral choice and also the practical business of politics.
“He was prolific in his writing, establishing academic outputs that have become foundations to the discipline, gaining insights from politicians that form an amazing catalogue of British political history.
His encyclopaedic knowledge didn’t stop at British politics–he was an authority and deeply involved in elections in many other countries.
“He pioneered live academic television election analysis. He was incredibly generous with his knowledge, contacts and insights.
“And with all of these accolades and achievements he never, once, in the twenty plus years that I was lucky enough to know him, boasted about any of these achievements.”
Image by Jane Bown
His own work demonstrated a deep understanding of both the theoretical basis of electoral choice and also the practical business of politics.
Professor Jane Green, Director of the Nuffield Politics Research Centre