Lifetime achievement award for Professor John Curtice

Professor John Curtice is presented with the Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award at the Times Higher Education Awards in London.

One of the UK’s foremost authorities on politics and elections – Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde – has been presented with a lifetime achievement award tonight (Thursday 30 November).

Professor Curtice, of Strathclyde’s School of Government & Public Policy, received the Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award at the Times Higher Education Awards in London.

The award was made in recognition of Professor Curtice’s academic career in psephology – the study of elections and voting – and his extensive media and public engagement work, which has been widely credited with making complex political issues accessible to a wide audience.

Accurately forecast

He was particularly commended for his exit polls for the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, which accurately forecast the outcomes despite being at odds with widespread expectations.

Professor Curtice said: “I am deeply honoured by this award from The Times Higher.

“Strathclyde has long been ‘a place of useful learning’. At the same time, I have had the good fortune to develop long-standing relationships outside of academia, most notably with NatCen Social Research and the BBC. As a result, I have – perhaps unusually - been able to combine the unfettered inquisitiveness of academic life with the opportunity to present, discuss and even sometimes apply my work in the outside world.

What universities do is too important to be confined to the ivory tower. They should be enriching society’s public discourse and its scientific understanding. I hope I have made at least a small contribution to the fulfilment of that role.”

The Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award is made annually to a person who, in the opinion of Times Higher Education, “deserves to be honoured for his or her contribution to higher education above and beyond their own professional role.”

Times Higher Education Editor, John Gill, said: “John Curtice has, through the brilliant application and communication of academic expertise, become one of the most respected scholars in his field and a fixture in the public consciousness. At a time when electoral surprises have become the norm, he foresaw the result of this year’s general election shock, a feat he has repeated with laser-like accuracy for decades as the man behind the exit polls that dominate election night coverage. He is a very deserving winner of Times Higher’s Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Professor Curtice grew up in Cornwall and took a keen interest in politics from an early age. After studying at the University of Oxford’s Magdalen and Nuffield Colleges, he began his academic career at the latter before becoming a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, subsequently taking up his current post at the University of Strathclyde in 1989.  

He has frequently commented on politics, elections and voting in broadcast, print and online media, including election night coverage, for more than 30 years. In the 2015 General Election, the exit poll that he led correctly forecast that the Conservatives would be the largest party by far, amid a general belief that the party was in a close contest Labour for first place.

In 2017, after earlier forecasts generally agreed the Conservatives would have an overall majority – potentially in a landslide – the exit poll accurately predicted that although they would still be the biggest party they would lose their overall majority, leading to a hung parliament.

Throughout the 2017 election campaign, he had highlighted that a seven-point lead for David Cameron in the 2015 election converted into the Conservatives having an overall majority of only 12 seats, meaning that his successor, Theresa May, would require a substantially larger lead than this to achieve a landslide.   

Professor Curtice has collaborated as Research Consultant for 30 years with Britain’s largest independent social research institute, NatCen/ScotCen Social Research, and as co-editor and director of its annual British and Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, widely regarded as one of the most important public opinion barometers in Britain and Scotland.

Professor Curtice is also President of the British Polling Council and runs two websites. One, What Scotland Thinks, provides comprehensive data and commentary on public attitudes towards how Scotland should be governed in the wake of the independence referendum. The other, What UK Thinks, charts public attitudes towards Brexit following the EU referendum.

Professor Curtice received the Political Studies Association’s Political Science Communication Prize in 2004 and 2015 and the Market Research Society’s Collaborative Research Award in 2010. He holds Fellowships of the British Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Social Sciences and an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Statistical Society.

The Times Higher Education Awards ceremony was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London and was hosted by comedian Al Murray.