On Political Methodology


Gary King. 1991. “On Political Methodology.” Political Analysis, 2: 1–30. Copy at http://j.mp/jFDaDu
Article1.38 MB
On Political Methodology


"Politimetrics" (Gurr 1972), "polimetrics" (Alker 1975), "politometrics" (Hilton 1976), "political arithmetic" (Petty [1672] 1971), "quantitative Political Science (QPS)," "governmetrics," "posopolitics" (Papayanopoulos 1973), "political science statistics (Rai and Blydenburgh 1973), "political statistics" (Rice 1926). These are some of the names that scholars have used to describe the field we now call "political methodology." The history of political methodology has been quite fragmented until recently, as reflected by this patchwork of names. The field has begun to coalesce during the past decade and we are developing persistent organizations, a growing body of scholarly literature, and an emerging consensus about important problems that need to be solved. I make one main point in this article: If political methodology is to play an important role in the future of political science, scholars will need to find ways of representing more interesting political contexts in quantitative analyses. This does not mean that scholars should just build more and more complicated statistical models. Instead, we need to represent more of the essence of political phenomena in our models. The advantage of formal and quantitative approaches is that they are abstract representations of the political world and are, thus, much clearer. We need methods that enable us to abstract the right parts of the phenomenon we are studying and exclude everything superfluous. Despite the fragmented history of quantitative political analysis, a version of this goal has been voiced frequently by both quantitative researchers and their critics (Sec. 2). However, while recognizing this shortcoming, earlier scholars were not in the position to rectify it, lacking the mathematical and statistical tools and, early on, the data. Since political methodologists have made great progress in these and other areas in recent years, I argue that we are now capable of realizing this goal. In section 3, I suggest specific approaches to this problem. Finally, in section 4, I provide two modern examples, ecological inference and models of spatial autocorrelation, to illustrate these points.
Last updated on 07/26/2013