Psephology — the study of elections — is a field that was pioneered by Nuffield College through early political scientists such as R.B. McCallum and Alison Readman (who wrote the first Nuffield election study in 1947), Herbert Nicholas (who wrote the second in 1950) and David Butler (who wrote or co-wrote each study from 1951 to 2005).

The word 'psephology' comes from the Greek word for pebble psephos, after the way that citizens voted in Athens, using differently-coloured pebbles. 'Psephology' started out as an academic joke suggested to R.B. McCallum — but it caught on. The first reference to 'psephology' in this context was by McCallum in Oxford Magazine in 1951, reviewing the 1950 Nuffield election study.

David Butler was then the first person to use it in a book. Butler’s British General Election of 1951, published the following year, opened with a spirited justification for why a book on elections was even necessary — and it caught on. During a tour of the United States in 1952, Butler found himself overwhelmed by journalists asking about the new word that had been coined.

Today, psephology has broadened and diversified into a discipline of its own.