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Governing by Numbers


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenor: Professor Deborah Mabbett
  • Assessment: a 2000-word data analysis project (50%), two multiple-choice and short-answer quizzes (40%) and data exercises (10%)

Module description

Information is power, and statistical information is often more powerful than other types of information, even though it is often presented misleadingly. This module is designed for those with no background in mathematics or statistics who would like to be able to understand the statistical data that are used in public debate, and find data relevant to questions they are interested in.

You will find out how to look up data relevant to politics and international relations from authoritative sources, and learn how to present and interpret data using spreadsheets and graphs. Some basic statistical concepts (e.g. correlation) will be discussed but no grasp of advanced statistics will be required.

This module is a great opportunity for those who want to become a bit more numerate to improve their skills in a way that is relevant to their other studies in politics.

Indicative module content

  • Population: what do we know about national, regional and global populations? Why do some countries know more about their population than others? Ways of calculating and portraying growth
  • Migration flows: what we know about legal and illegal migration and where refugees come from and end up
  • Enfranchisement and voting behaviour: when is an election 'fair'?
  • GDP/economy: GDP compared with 'welfare'; why do governments, international organisations, banks etc care about GDP and GNP?
  • Indicators of poverty and inequality; issues of cross-country comparison
  • Government spending and debt: why debt can explode or shrink
  • Health and mortality
  • Ageing populations: visualising population age distributions
  • Controversial statistics: e.g. why do some countries create/collect statistics about ethnicity while others don't?
  • Contested statistics: investigating an example of a topical issue with statistical content

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • find relevant statistical information and use it in your own work
  • interpret simple statistics, use a spreadsheet and create and read graphs
  • reflect on how statistics are used in different contexts and cross-nationally.