History of ICENES

Um heimtur Íslensku Kosningarannsóknarinnar árið 1983.

Ólafur Þ. Harðarson, now Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Iceland, did pioneer work in Icelandic social sciences when he launched ICENES in 1983. ICENES has been conducted after every Icelandic parliamentary election since then. Here, the history and progress of ICENES is briefly reviewed.


The beginning of the ICENES

In the autumn of 1979, Ólafur began his doctoral studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, after completing his M.Sc. degree there. The subject of his thesis was voters and political parties in Iceland and the aim was to carry out the first election study in Iceland. Ólafur began teaching and researching at the University of Iceland in January 1980 and directed the research from there.

In the winter of 1982-83, Ólafur and Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson designed the first study, which was carried out after the parliamentary election in 1983. Ólafur had previously sought the advice of Henry Valen, the founder of the Norwegian National Election Study, Bo Särlvik, who founded the Swedish National Election Study and Ivor Crewe, who had directed the British National Election Study. From the beginning, great emphasis has been placed on that ICENES data is comparative with other national election studies.

Gunnar and Ólafur were in charge of implementing the whole research process themselves in 1983. The headquarters were in Ólafur's office at Skólabrú 2, where political science at the University of Iceland was based at the time. They hired interviewers, wrote a questionnaire, had a random sample of voters selected from the National Registry and managed day-to-day data collection. The first study used both telephone surveys and face-to-face interviews (a few respondents with rural open-line telephones answered in the mail).

ICENES was mostly funded by the Science Fund (i. Vísindasjóður) in 1983.The Icelandic Commission on Security and International Affairs and NORDSAM (Nordiska samarbetskommitén för internationell politik, inklusive konflikt- och fredsforskning) also provided funding. The first results were published in 1984 and focused on Icelanders' attitudes towards international and security issues, e.g. attitudes towards NATO and the US military base in Keflavík. These results attracted a great deal of attention and were thoroughly discussed in the Icelandic media.




In the winter of 1982-83, Ólafur and Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson designed the first study, which was carried out after the parliamentary election in 1983. Gunnar and Ólafur took care of the study’s implementation in 1983.


From left: Ólafur Th. Hardarson and Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson.

A photo of Ólafur Th. and Gunnar H.

The progress of ICENES

Since 1987, the Social Sciences Research Institute of the University of Iceland has been responsible for data collection, but Ólafur and Gunnar Helgi continued to be responsible for the academic preparation and design. Over the years, several students of Ólafur have worked as his research assistants in research in ICENES, e.g. Sveinn Helgason, Einar Mar Þórðarson and Eva H. Önnudóttir. Eva H. Önnudóttir, who first joined ICENES in 2003, took over as its director in 2016. In addition to Ólafur and Eva, Agnar Freyr Helgason, Hulda Thorisdóttir and Jón Gunnar Ólafsson are now on the steering committee of ICENES.

The first study used both telephone surveys and face-to-face interviews. Since 1987, all the surveys have been by telephone, but in 2021, selected participants were invited to participate in the study by sending them the survey by e-mail. In the 1987 election study, part of the sample was from the group of respondents from 1983, but such a panel format was also used in 2016-17 and 2017-2021.


Since 1987, ICENES has received financial support from the Science Fund and its successor, RANNÍS (from the Icelandic Research Fund and the Infrastructure Fund). Due to the election in the autumn of 2017 was an early election, it was not possible to apply for funding to RANNÍS to study that election. Althingi (the Icelandic parliament) came to the rescue and supported ICENES with financial contributions from the supplementary state budget. This ensured that the study could be carried out in 2017. In addition, ICENES has received smaller grants from the University of Iceland’s Research Fund.

In the beginning, the election study was only in the form of a post-electoral voter survey. Since then, two surveys have been added, which are a survey among candidates of parties that have been elected (candidate survey) and a survey among voters during the election campaign (electoral campaign survey).

In 2009, the first candidate survey was conducted for all candidates (elected or not) of the parties that had been elected to parliament. The candidate survey has been repeated ever since and formally became part of ICENES in 2013.

In 2016, a questionnaire was carried out among voters through a large sample taken from the Social Science Research Institute's panel during the election campaign. It analyses whether and what changes take place in voters’ attitudes towards the political parties, on issues and which party they intend to vote. In addition, it monitors to what extent voters follow the election campaign.

In 1999, ICENES became part of the international project CSES (Comparative Study of Electoral Systems). Some of the questions in ICENES are questions from CSES, which are presented in the same way in more than 50 countries and form an international database. More information on international co-operation can be found on the page under the tab "About us" through "About ICENES".