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Principles of Comparative Research. Some review slides Robert Thomson. Some themes that run through the course. The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is stylistic Empirical research of all types should be theory-driven

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principles of comparative research

Principles of Comparative Research

Some review slides

Robert Thomson

some themes that run through the course
Some themes that run through the course
  • The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is stylistic
  • Empirical research of all types should be theory-driven
  • Develop theories that explain as much as possible with as little as possible
  • Report uncertainty
  • Develop rival hypotheses
defining social scientific research
Defining social scientific research
  • Science is a set of principles, whose application is not restricted to a particular empirically defined subject area
  • The ultimate goal is causal inference
  • Procedures are public
  • Conclusions are uncertain
what are the boundaries within which the scientific method applies in political science
What are the boundaries within which the scientific method applies in political science?
  • To both basic and applied research that is empirical
  • Not directly to non empirical (purely theoretical, sometimes normative) research
    • But even in these traditions, researchers refer to facts about and relationships found in politics
causal inference
Causal inference
  • Theories give explanations of classes of phenomena (e.g. the occurrence of wars, the duration of governments, choice of parties by voters)
  • Theories state causal relationships between variables
  • Theories simplify
  • Inference involves moving from observed to unobserved cases (e.g. from samples of respondents to entire populations)
towards causal inference
Towards causal inference
  • Draw out observable implications of the theory
  • Select cases for study that allow you to move beyond these particular observations - this often means ensuring they are representative
  • Pay careful attention to accurate description
public procedures
Public procedures
  • A social enterprise
  • Replicable
    • The derivation of hypotheses and predictions from a theory
    • The measurement of concepts
    • The analysis of relationships among variables

Due to:

  • making inferences from observed to unobserved cases
  • the complexity of social phenomena
    • multiple causes
    • rudimentary theory
  • measurement error
  • rival theories

Research is never finished

evaluating research
Evaluating research
  • This implies that, at a minimum, social scientific research should:
    • lead to valid causal inferences
    • contain clear reports of procedure
    • report sources and levels of uncertainty
  • Contrast this with: “Like any creative work, research should be evaluated subjectively, according to informal and rather flexible criteria” (Shively 2002: 10)
this applies to both quantitative and qualitative research
This applies to both quantitative and qualitative research
  • Quantitative social research
    • Abstraction from particular events
    • Sometimes applies formal theory
    • Numerical measurement of concepts
  • Qualitative social research
    • Smaller number of cases, usually important in their own right
    • Rich descriptive approach to data gathering and analysis
political science often combines quantitative and qualitative methods
Political science often combines quantitative and qualitative methods
  • E.g.
    • Government efficiency in Italy (Putman 1993)
    • International economic cooperation (Martin 1992)
    • Decision-making in the European Union (Hix 2006)
    • Democratic performance/ pledge fulfilment in various countries (e.g. Mansergh 2005; Thomson 2001)
the main components of a research design
The main components of a research design

A dynamic process within a stable set of rules of inquiry

  • Research questions
  • Theory
  • Deciding how and what to observe
    • Measurement
    • Case selection
  • Analysing data
research questions
Research questions
  • Where do they come from?
    • “there is no such thing as a logical method of having new ideas… Discovery contains an ‘irrational element’, or a ‘creative intuition’” (Karl Popper 1968 32)
  • Unlike other parts of the research design, little to no formalised procedures
real reasons for choosing a particular question
“Real reasons” for choosing a particular question
  • Personal motives
    • Membership of/affinity with the group affected by the topic
    • To help some group achieve its goals
    • Curiosity
  • Neither necessary nor sufficient
  • The scientific community does not care what we think, only what we can demonstrate
    • Contrast this with Blaikie (2000: 48): “It is important for researchers to articulate their motives for undertaking a research project, as different motives may require different research design decisions.”
guidelines for selecting questions
Guidelines for selecting questions
  • Social and scientific relevance
  • Social relevance
    • “important” in the real world
  • Scientific relevance
    • A contribution to a scientific body of knowledge
types of scientific relevance
Types of scientific relevance
  • A hypothesis that is presented as being important but has not yet been examined systematically
  • An accepted hypothesis believed to be false
  • (Apparently) contradictory hypotheses from different theories
  • (Apparently) contradictory findings
  • A new test of an old theory
  • Transfer of theories from other (sub) disciplines
  • Replication
types of research questions
Types of research questions
  • Descriptive and explanatory
    • What (Descriptive)
    • Why (Explanatory)
    • How questions (Interventionist) (Blaikie 2000)
  • Relation to research objectives
    • Exploration
    • Description
    • Understanding
    • Explanation
    • Prediction
    • Change
    • Evaluation
  • Causal inference as the ultimate scientific objective?
blaikie s procedure for identifying questions
Blaikie’s procedure for identifying questions
    • Write down every question you can think of
    • Review the questions (order and prioritise)
    • Separate what, why and how questions (reformulate so you can put them into these boxes)
    • Expose assumptions
    • Examine scope (practicalities)
    • Separate major and subsidiary questions
    • Is each question necessary?
  • Does any researcher do it like this?
graham allison philip zelikow 1999 essence of decision explaining the cuban missile crisis 2 nd ed
Graham Allison & Philip Zelikow(1999) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis 2nd. Ed.
  • Stated research questions
    • Why did the Soviet Union place strategic offensive missiles in Cuba?
    • Why did the US respond with a naval quarantine of Soviet shipments to Cuba?
    • Why were the missiles withdrawn?
    • What are the lessons of the missile crisis?
allison s general argument
Allison’s general argument
  • We think about problems of foreign and military policy in terms of largely implicit conceptual models
  • The Rational Actor Model dominates
  • Two other models – the organisational behaviour model and the governmental politics model – provide improved explanations
allison s implicit overarching research question
Allison’s (implicit) overarching research question
  • What is the relative power of three competing theories in explaining the Cuban missile crisis?
    • Rational Actor Model
    • Organisational Behaviour Model
    • Governmental Politics Model
specific research questions associated with each theory
Specific research questions associated with each theory
  • Rational Actor questions included
    • What were the objective (or perceived) costs and benefits of the available options?
    • What were the states’ best choices in this situation?
  • Organisational Behaviour questions included
    • Of what organisations did the governments consist?
    • What capabilities and constraints did these organisations’ “standard operating procedures” create in generating options for action?
specific questions cont
Specific questions cont.
  • Governmental Politics questions included
    • Who played? Whose views and values counted in shaping the choices for actions?
    • What factors accounted for each player’s impact on the choices for action?
george tsebelis 2002 veto players how political institutions work
George Tsebelis (2002) Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work
  • Presents and tests a general theory of political institutions
  • Examines the consequences of variations in the numbers and locations of veto players in political systems
  • Main focus on policy stability – causes and consequences
veto players and policy stability the winset
Veto players and policy stabilityThe winset



Winset of SQ

(Intersection of indifference curves)



veto players and policy stability the core
Veto players and policy stabilityThe core



Core (within triangle)

No winset of SQ2




tsebelis main research questions
Tsebelis’ main research questions
  • How do veto players affect policy stability?
  • How does policy stability affect political outcomes such as:
    • The extent to which governments control the agenda
    • Government duration
    • Public expenditure
    • Bureaucratic independence
    • Judicial independence
    • Legislative outcomes in the European Union?
what are causal theories
What are causal theories?
  • A reasoned answer to an explanatory question
  • Identifies the explanatory variables, variation in which causes change in the dependent variable
    • Usually involving a set of assumptions, and descriptive and explanatory hypotheses
  • No theory without evidence
what is causation
What is causation?
  • A theoretical construct
  • Implies a counter-factual thought experiment
    • E.g. what if another party had entered government. Would public expenditure be different?
    • What should you hold constant in your thought experiment?
  • The Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference
    • We cannot observe causation directly
inferences about causal effects
Inferences about causal effects
  • Based on observable variation across different units or cases
  • Requires
    • Comparability
    • Unit homogeneity or constant causal effects
are there other types of causation
Are there other types of causation?
  • Causal mechanisms / process tracing
    • The processes through which variation in an IV causes variation in DV
  • Multiple causality
    • Different IVs may lead to the same changes in DV
  • Asymmetric causality
    • Increase in value of IV may not have the same size of effect as a decrease of IV of the same magnitude
what does a good theory look like
What does a good theory look like?
  • Falsifiable
    • Could be wrong
  • Internally consistent
    • Don’t contradict themselves
  • Concrete
    • Contain clearly defined concepts
  • Broad in scope
    • Explain lots of things
  • Avoid tautologies
    • E.g. some applications of the concept of national interest in explaining foreign policy decisions
  • Distinct from Popper’s use of the term
  • Use both confirming and disconfirming evidence to gauge theory’s scope
internally consistent
Internally consistent
  • Contradictory hypotheses prove a theory wrong without evidence
  • Formal models are used to provide consistency
    • Mathematics and the study of political systems
    • Abstract from complexity of reality
    • Ignore other relevant IVs
  • At what cost?
    • Exclusion of other relevant IVs
    • Accessibility
  • Avoid vaguely defined concepts
  • Think ahead to operationalisation
  • Avoid reification
  • What this does not mean
    • Studying only phenomena that can be observed directly
    • Limiting scope unduly
broad in scope
Broad in scope
  • Explain as much as possible with as little as possible
  • Push the boundaries of the theory’s applicability
  • Tempered by
    • Need to be concrete
    • The fact that most social science theories are conditional (only sometimes true)
allison s model i rational actor model
Allison’s Model I: Rational Actor Model
  • Basic unit of analysis: governmental action as choice
  • Main concepts:
    • Unified “national” actor
    • Action as rational choice
      • Objectives
      • Options
      • Consequences
      • Choice
rational actor model cont
Rational Actor Model cont.
  • Dominant inference pattern
    • Finding purposes that are served by the action being explained
  • General proposition
    • Increase in perceived costs of an alternative reduce the likelihood of that action being chosen
  • Evidence
    • Relates to objectives, options and perceived consequences
    • Naïve applications in danger of tautology
allison s model ii orgnisational behaviour model
Allison’s Model II: Orgnisational Behaviour Model
  • Basic unit of analysis: Governmental action as organisational output
  • Main concepts:
    • Organisational actors
    • Factored problems and fractionated power
    • Organisational objectives, capacities
    • Organisational routines and standard operating proceduures
organisational behaviour model cont
Organisational Behaviour Model cont.
  • Dominant inference pattern
    • Uncover the capacities and organisational routines that produced the outputs (policy actions) in question
  • General propositions include
    • Existing organisational capabilities influence government choice
    • Organisational priorities shape organisational implementation
  • Evidence
    • On the organisations involved






Issue 1







Issue 2

Issue 1

Potential exchange partners







Issue 2




An exchange model of political bargainingStokman & Van Oosten (1994)

sA1/sA2 sD1/sD2

A model of the consultation procedure

Adapted from Garret and Tsebelis 1999










Predicted Outcome QMV

Pivotal player QMV

compromise model
Compromise model

Power /

Effective power

Predicted outcome of model

Issue continuum / positions

The Compromise Model

Oa = (  xia cia sia ) / (  cia sia )

Oa : Prediction of compromise model on issue a

xia : Position of actor i on issue a

cia : Capabilities of actor i on issue a

sia : Salience actor i attaches to issue a

Illustration of model predictions

A fisheries regulation (CNS/1998/347)

Issue 1: Scrap build penalty: How many tones of old fishing vessels need to be scrapped to qualify for EU funding for fleet renewal?

Procedure 0

XM 21

Compromise model 36




0: One to one. Reference point and OUTCOME

50: Scrap 115 tones of old ship for every 100 tones of new

90: 130 old for 100 new

100: 150-180 old for 100 new

Issue 2: Linkage. To what extent should funding be linked to MAGP targets?

Compromise model 68

Procedure 80




XM 86



0: No linkage reference point

40: limited linkage

70: linked to annual objectives


100: Linked to annual and final objectives