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Digital Era Government and Politics

Key Information

Course details
Option course for MSc, Hilary Term
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Professor Victoria Nash, Dr Keegan McBride


We live in an age of enormous change for both government and politics. The past few years have witnessed the spectacular rise of previously marginal political movements in both Europe and the US, which have rocked political systems and swept away old ways of doing politics. Government structures are also dealing with considerable challenges, from austerity movements which in many countries are entering their second decade to the need to adapt to new technologies and fast changing populations. Data science and digital technology form a key part of this contemporary challenge. Social media technologies have, according to some, facilitated the rise of populist and radical political movements, by lowering communication costs and enabling the distribution of new ideas. Data science is also being used to enable new forms of political campaigning (for example, micro targeting of advertisements) and indeed new forms of government (such as smart cities). Furthermore, data science techniques have also revolutionised the ability of academics to study and understand the political system.

This option course will approach the study of government and politics through the lens of data science. Each week will have a 2-hour session tackling a key sub-field of research within the broader discipline of political science (for example, voting behaviour, or political communication). The aim is to introduce students both to classic theories in the sub-field and also the latest applications of data science techniques to testing these theories.

Students will leave with both a wide ranging grounding in political science and (a) insight into how data science can be used to shed new light on key debates in the field and (b) understanding of where data science is (or could be) changing the political landscape through its use by political actors, such as in large-scale data-led election campaigns; for policy-making; and through the use of algorithms in computational propaganda.

Learning Objectives

  • This course aims to equip students to research politics and government in a data-intensive environment. By the end of the course, students will:
  • Have an appreciation of classic theories and debates of political science across a broad variety of sub-fields, such as electoral studies; government and policy-making; and political mobilization and citizen engagement.
  • Understand where the use of data science by political actors is changing politics and policy-making, as in large-scale electoral campaigns.
  • Be aware of the latest data science informed work across political science, and have insight into the potential for data science for political science research.
  • Have improved their critical writing and debating skills through in-class debates, presentations, and formative and summative assignments.


  1. The nature of politics and democracy in the digital era
  2. Political communication, agenda setting and public opinion
  3. Formal processes of political participation: parties, campaigns and elections
  4. Civil society, protest and activism
  5. Populism and radical politics
  6. Digital-era government and bureaucracy
  7. Smart cities and data driven government