POSC 230 Methods of Political Research

Spring  2003

Willis 203

MW 8:30 to 9:40, F 8:30- 9:30



B. Gregory Marfleet


Willis  404

Ext. 4116

Home 645-4035

Office Hours:  W, TH, F 2:30 – 4:30 or by appointment

Email: gmarflee@carleton.edu



This course is intended to introduce students to the ‘science’ side of political science. Over the term students will be encouraged to think like social scientists, to learn how to pose questions in the manner of their discipline, to undertake a study of their own and to present their findings in a customary fashion.  While undertaking these efforts, they will also participate in an analysis of the work of other scholars (and their peers), a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies, and a broader critical evaluation of the application of the scientific method to the study of politics.


Although superficially the topic of research methods may appear to be a dull one, in fact, the epistemological and ontological debates at the heart of any methods discussion are among the MOST contentious ones in our field.  Political Science is known to be a ‘borrowing discipline’.  It has been alternately colonized by (sometimes self-described) imperial disciplines such as history, economics, psychology, sociology and anthropology.  Each colonization has brought with it departmental disputes, struggles for preeminence among journals, and occasional wars over the hearts and minds of undergraduates and graduate students.  The result of this historical pattern is the current pluralistic, multi-methodological mix that we find among practitioners in most departments (including our own here at Carleton).  Some lament this haphazard and inefficient mess while others celebrate this freedom to pursue interesting questions by whatever means. Curse or blessing: even that is a matter of some debate.


The course will be organized around a regular M, W, F pattern.  Monday will be comprised primarily of lecture as I introduce new topics.  On Wednesday I may append Monday’s lecture material briefly before the class shifts to a discussion of a single article.  I have consciously adopted a “more is less” approach for these Wednesday sessions and I plan for us to collective analyze these articles in depth employing all of the tools and skills that you will have acquired to that point rather than try to tackle several articles less intensively.   Fridays will be ‘workshop’ days that focus on a series of short assignments that comprise the essential steps in the process of completing your major projects: formulating a question, reviewing literature, identifying applicable theories, generating hypotheses, developing a testing strategy, finding data, analyzing data, and presenting your findings.  During these sessions I may sometimes break the class into smaller sub-groups and have you discuss your work with you peers.




Marsh and Stoker (eds), 2002. Theory and Methods in Political Science, Second Edition, 2002, Palgrave-MacMillan.


Johnson, Joslyn & Reynolds, 2001. Political Science Research Methods, 4th edition, CQ Press.


Van Evera, Stephen, 1997. Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science, Cornell University Press.






Participation:                                                     200


Friday Workshop Assignments (7 total):            265


Research Proposal:                                           135


Final Project Presentation:                                 400


            Total                                                    1000



Friday workshop assignments will be graded on a Ö +, Ö,  Ö-  basis.  Earning seven Ö’s on the assignments guarantees a minimum of 230 points. Each Ö + (plus) earned increases that score by 5 points each Ö- decreases that score by 5 points.  Participation points will be assigned primarily on the basis of the instructors assessment of your preparation for Wednesday and Friday session (did you appear to have read the article and have completed the assignment with the intention of joining in class discussion).  Average participation level will earn 165 points with above and below average students being assessed from this baseline.




Class Outline and Assignments



Monday March 31       Introduction and Syllabus

                                    History, Foundations Controversies.

                                    J           JR Ch 2, M & S Introduction



Wednesday, April 2      No Class. This time will be made up later in the term during an

                                    evening SPSS orientation session.



Friday, April 4              Workshop Assignment #1 Asking a Question


Read the first chapter of the JJR text which outlines eight different research programs in political science.  After reading each section identify the broad research question that motivates the scholars working in each area (you will generate 8 questions). In some instances this question identification will be quite easy (it may even be the title of the subsection) but in others it may be tougher.  When we meet on Friday we will collectively identify what these are.  After you have completed this first task, reflect for a while on the political science courses you have taken. Which one interested you most? In which was the reading material most accessible? Which did you find it easiest to excel in? Phrase two or three broad research questions—like the ones you provided for the other eight research programs—that relate to the past Political Science courses you have taken.  On a single page submit these 10 or 11 questions.



I:  The discipline of political science, some philosophy of science


Monday, April 7           Ontology, Epistemology & Theory

                        JJR Ch 6, M & S Ch 1


Wednesday, April 9      Varieties of Causality

                                                M & S CH 2-3


Friday, April 11            Workshop Assignment #2:  Locating Literature


Part 1:  Locate the J-Stor database on the library web site.


Conduct several searches on topics of interest to you by entering keywords in the full-text search. Make sure that the Political Science Journals box is checked.  If your topic involves certain geographical areas, or economic issues you may want to select more journal categories.   Comb the resulting list of articles for three or four that seem particularly relevant and read the abstracts, introductions and conclusions of these articles. When you’ve found a topic that seems especially interesting and accessible to you, save or print copies of the articles you’ve found. 


You may need to adjust your search criteria (just putting War or Voting in the full-text search box will, of course, generate too many responses).


Part 2: Locate the Web of Science database on the library web site.


Do a ‘full’ search of the Social Science Citation Index for the articles you have selected from J-Stor. Record how many times each of the J-Stor articles you found has been cited.  Next, see if you can find one of the citing articles.  You may be able to find it on J-Stor (if it is older) or you may have to venture into the library if it is from a recent journal!


Write me a one page summary of how your search went. What did you search for? What keywords did you use? What did you find?  On a second page include bibliographic references to the J-Stor articles you found and under each referenced article indicate how many times it has been cited based on the SSCI


Come prepared Friday to discuss what you’ve found.



II: Building Blocks for Research: Concepts, Variables, Hypotheses, Measurement


Monday, April 14         Propositions and Hypotheses.

                                                JJR 3, M & S CH 4-5, Van Evera Ch 1


Wednesday, April 16    Conceptualization and Measurement, Reliability and Validity

                                                JJR 4, M & S Ch 6-8  


Article for Discussion

Benjamin A. Most; Harvey Starr “Conceptualizing "War": Consequences for Theory and Research”  Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Mar., 1983), pp. 137-159 (J-Stor)


Friday, April 18            Workshop Assignment #3: Identifying Approaches


Over the week, spend some time exploring your topic in J-Stor, and the SSCI. You may want to conduct topic searches in SSCI. These will identify a wider range of sources than just the J-Stor selection.  You should, by now, have a feel for which articles are the most central to the academic discussion of your topic. You will want to save, print and read them closely.  Recalling the Marsh and Stoker discussion of epistemology and ontology and the seven ‘approaches’ chapters we read this week, how would you classify your articles?  Do they all operate within the same epistemological tradition? What about the ontology? Do they all adopt a similar “approach” (i.e. Behavioralist, Ration Choice, Feminists, Marxist)?  If you were to contribute to this academic discussion could you do so while adopting alternative approach? Write a two page analysis of your articles answering these questions.  Come prepared Friday to discuss your articles and how they fit into the Marsh and Stoker chapters.



III: Research designs: Experiments, Large-n, Small-n, and Qualitative Reseach



A: The Logic of Experiments


Monday, April 21         Experiments, Internal and External Validity

                                                JJR Ch 5                     


Wednesday, April 23    Quasi-Experiments


Article for Discussion:

Shanto Iyengar “Television News and Citizens' Explanations of National Affairs (in Articles)” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 81, No. 3. (Sep., 1987), pp. 815-832. (J-Stor)



Friday, April 25            Research Proposal


Although this could be considered a Workshop Assignment (entitled: ‘Proposing Hypotheses and a Testing Strategy’) I wanted you to pay extra attention to this important phase.  Please submit a paper of not more than 6 pages (typed, double-spaced, 12 pt font) that includes:


1)      An articulation of your research question (This is the intro paragraph). The question should be a manageable one. It MUST be phrased in the form of a question and MUST address a political issue.

Examples:  Are democratic dyads less prone to war?  Why did some Eastern European states transition from authoritarian rule more successfully than others?
Why do some states adopt stricter seatbelt safety laws?  What factors predicted a country’s support for the United States’ initiation of the War in Iraq?

Examples of unacceptable research questions: Do seatbelt laws work? (This is a public policy question there is not enough political content)  I’d like to study interstate border disputes. (not in question format)  What causes ethic conflict (too broad).

2)      A literature view which provides some insights into what others have written (or perhaps have overlooked) about this question. What theories have been offered to explain the phenomenon? (4 pages). You may want to discuss conceptualization issues here if there is any debate in your readings over how terms are defined.

3)      Although you wouldn’t normally be so explicit about this phase, I’d like you to articulate the general ‘approach’ to the research question that you will be employing (behavioral, rational choice, institutional, Marxist etc.) it may be that you are blending aspects of two (or more). (1 page)

4)      One or more proposition derived from a theory that you could transform into a testable hypothesis (one or two sentences)

5)      A very preliminary discussion what kind of testing strategy you would want to employ (a three-cornered fight? a test of one hypothesis against the null?) and a discussion of what kind of data you would need to implement this strategy. What would the unit of analysis have to be? Would you need observations over multiple time periods etc. (This will guide your future data search). (this section should amount to a few paragraphs)


Keep in mind that these components are subject to change in the future as your project evolves, you do more reading, generate new hypotheses and assess the availability of data.



B: Large-N Studies


Monday, April 28         EPSeM Sampling

                        JJR Ch 7, M & S Ch 10


Wednesday, April 30    Univariate & Bivariate analysis

                                                JJR 11, 12


                                    Article for Discussion:

Michael D. Wallace 1982. “Armaments and Escalation: Two Competing Hypotheses”. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1. pp. 37-56. (J-Stor)


Friday, May 2              No Assignment, visit from Paula Lackie & Carolyn Sandford

                                    Re:  Searching for and Requesting Data



Monday, May 5           [Midterm Break -- No Class -- Work on locating Data for Friday!]








Wednesday, May 7      Multivariate Regression

                                                JJR 13 (405-411)


Article for Discussion

Carol R. Ember & Melvin Ember “War, Socialization, and Interpersonal Violence: A Cross-Cultural Study” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 38, No. 4. (Dec., 1994), pp. 620-646. (J-Stor)


Friday, May 9                Workshop Assignment #4: Locating Data


Following the advice of Paula Lackie find data relevant to your research question.

You may want to check out the ICPSR web site (http://www.icpsr.umich.edu) and download and read the codebooks for the data sets you find interesting.

Other good data sources include:



For Economic data check out this site created by the Econ Dept.


For IR data:




Once you’ve found your data, initiate the process of obtaining it through Paula Lackie.  Note that several commonly used data sets (NES, COW, MIDS, ICDB, Polity IV, Gurr’s Civil Strife Dataset) are already in SPSS form and are available in the common folder for this course on the FABIO L: drive.


If there is an associated codebook, always download a copy and read it carefully (only print it out when you are sure you’re going to use that dataset) with a mind to answering the following questions in a two page summary paper:  Who collected the data? What is the unit of analysis? How many cases are there in the data set? What was the sampling method? For how many variables was data collected for each case? What variables does it contain which are of particular interest to you as dependent or independent variables?  Evaluate the usefulness of the data for the purposes if fulfilling your research proposal goals.








Monday, May 12         More Multivariate Methods (Pooled Time Series

                                    or Path Analysis)


NOTE:  I plan to make up the class missed in the first week during an evening SPSS orientation session in one of the computing classrooms this week.  Time and room TBA. Attendance is expected but allowances will be made for scheduling conflicts.


Wednesday, May 14    Logistic Regression

                                                JJR Ch 13 (412 – 427)


                                    Article for Discussion

Paul R. Hensel and Paul F. Diehl “It Takes Two to Tango: Nonmilitarized Response in Interstate Disputes.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 38, No. 3. (Sep., 1994), pp. 479-506. (J-stor)



Friday, May16             Workshop Assignment #5: Data Analysis 1


If you have found your own data set—and it is in SPSS format already—then you may use it for the purposes of this assignment.  If you do not yet have your own data to work with, select one of the available data sets from the common folder.  In this data set locate a dependent variable of interest to you (preferably one that is not dichotomous).  Generate some descriptive statistics of this variable.  Estimate a bivariate model using this dependent variable and some relevant independent variable.   You will likely need to consult the codebook in order to identify some relevant variables.  You may need, or want, to perform some small transformations or index construction.  If you happen to have a dichotomous dependent variable then estimate a logistic regression.  Use the equation for calculating probabilities to interpret the logistic coefficients. Turn in the results with a brief interpretation of your findings (I don’t want copies of your SPSS printout, turn them into well presented tables).  Although there is no strict page limit, try to be efficient in your presentation I do not expect more than about  3 pages including graphs, and tables  I will provide a template table and some phraseology for you to emulate as a guide to completing this assignment.


Come Friday prepared to discuss your statistical analyses.



Monday, May 19         Content analysis

                                                JJR Ch 9






C:  Small-N Studies



Wednesday, May 21    Small-n sampling and the Comparative Method

                                    Van Evera Ch 2


Article for Discussion:

M. Kent Jennings “Gender Roles and Inequalities in Political Participation: Results from an Eight-Nation Study” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3. (Sep., 1983), pp. 364-385. (J-stor)


Friday, May 23            Workshop Assignment #6: Data Analysis 2


Hopefully, you have found your own data set by now and it is in SPSS format ready for this assignment.  If you do not yet have your own data to work with, select one of the available data sets from the common folder.  In this data set locate a dependent variable of interest to you (preferably one that is not dichotomous).  I would encourage you to use the same dependent variable from the last assignment.   Estimate a multivariate model using this dependent variable and some relevant independent variables.   You will likely need to consult the codebook in order to identify some relevant variables.  You may again need to perform some small transformations or index construction.   If you happen to have a dichotomous dependent variable then estimate a multivariate logistic regression.  Use the equation for calculating probabilities to interpret the logistic coefficients.


Turn in the results with a brief interpretation of your findings (again, in well presented tables).  This assignment should not require more than 3 pages including tables and graphs.  I will, again, provide a template table and some phraseology for you to emulate as a guide to completing this assignment.


Come Friday prepared to discuss your statistical analyses.




Monday, May 26         Qualitative methods

                                                JJR 10, M & S Ch 9

Cameron Thies 2002.  “A Pragmatic Guide to Qualitative Historical Analysis in the Study of International Relations” International studies perspective. Vol 3, November. (on reserve)           




Wednesday, May 28    Interviews

                                                JJR ch 10

“Symposium on Interview Methods in Political Science” PS: Political Science and Politics.  Vol 35, No 4, December 2002. pp 663-8. (on reserve)


Article for Discussion

(guest speaker or article TBA)



Friday, May 30            Workshop Assignment #7: Introduction, problem, hypotheses


Submit, drafts of your Research question, Introduction, and hypotheses for consideration (no more than two pages total).


Come prepared to discuss these components.



Monday, June 2            Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

                                                M & S Ch 11  

IV:  Ethics


Wednesday, June 4      Ethics  

                        Carleton College IRB Manual:






Monday, June 9            7:00 - 7:42       POSTER SESSION #1  

                                                            (Ansell, Barach, Collyar, Han, Justman, Kaplan)


                                    7:50 – 8:32       POSTER SESSION #2

(Kastler, Kelley, Madamala, Markgraf, Marsman, McDonough)


                                    8:40 – 9:22       POSTER SESSION #3

(Reitz, Sadeghi, Stoltz, Ward, Watanabe, Zumberge)