Political Methodology

In the last decade or so, political methodology has emerged as a distinct subfield of political science. 

Political methodologists study existing statistical techniques and develop new ways to use statistics to estimate and identify political effects and make sense of political data. Their role in the discipline is similar to that of econometricians in economics, whose main purpose is to understand the most efficient and accurate ways to test hypotheses and analyze data.

In the past, most political methodologists maintained a strong substantive focus in one of the traditional subfields while also working on questions of political methodology. Increasingly, however, political methodologists are less attached to a traditional subfield and focus primarily on improving the discipline's ability to make causal inferences from data.

The department has become one of the discipline’s leaders in the area of mathematical models of political institutions and collective behavior, often referred to as “formal theory" or "game theory."

The department is a leader in another emerging methodology, the use of field experiments to study political outcomes. The use of randomized control trials conducted in the field has influenced social science research generally over the last decade, and the department is at the forefront of this development. Scholars in the department have used field experiments to study issues such as political participation in the United States and dispute resolution in Africa. Research in experimental methods complements other methods, including game theory, quantitative analysis, survey research, and qualitative methods.

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