POLI 4001
Research Methods in Political Science

Class Time:T TH 1:40 – 3:00 Instructor: Dr. Leonard Ray
Room: Coates 209 Office:240 Stubbs Hall
Office Hours: M, W 10:00 – 12:00 Tel: 578-2542
Email: lray2@lsu.edu

Most of what you have been taught at LSU was learned at some point by someone else doing original research. Many “research” papers written at the college level rely exclusively on secondary sources, and report the results of research done by others. Stop reading about what other people have discovered and go discover something yourself! Form your own theories, and test them. Confront conventional “wisdom” with careful observation and see if something “everyone knows” is wrong. Begin to add to the collected knowledge of humanity. Perhaps you will learn something that will be taught to the next generation of college students.

This course is intended to show you how to prepare and execute an original empirical research project of your own design. One way we learn how to do research is by carefully examining the strengths and weaknesses of research which has been done by others. In addition to teaching you how to be a better producer of research, this examination of research should prepare you to be a more critical consumer of research, better equipped to evaluate the importance and quality of the research reports you read.


The four main objectives of this course are:
  1. . To teach students about the nature of research in Political Science.
  2. . To enable students to read Political Science research.
  3. . To train students to execute their own quantitative analyses of data.
  4. . To permit students conduct original empirical research.


Over the course of the semester, students will design and execute their own empirical research project. Students will report the results of their research in an abbreviated (4-5 page) research paper. In a series of short written assignments (+/- 2 pages each) and lab assignments (from the SPSS Companion workbook,) you will develop a theoretical explanation for political phenomena, review published research, and describe statistical analyses of data. Late papers are penalized 10% per day. The final exam will be a critical analysis of selected political science article(s). The course will rely on class discussion as well as lectures. Active participation in class is expected.


Research Project

The research project for this course is somewhat different than the usual college term paper. Students not expected to summarize the published research on their topic. Instead, they conduct an original research project of their own. This research project should be an original analysis of data. These data can be obtained from a variety of sources, including surveys, direct observation, archives, and data used in previously published work. The data included with the SPSS Companion workbook may be uses as long as the analysis does not replicate analyses done for the lab assignments. It is important to select a topic early, and identify the data to be used well before the end of the semester. This is particularly important if students plan to collect their own data from scratch. For more guidance on conducting and writing up a research project, read Pollock SPSS Companion Ch. 10.


Course readings will be drawn from textbooks available at the university bookstore and from journal articles. Most of the journal articles will be available in electronic format online. Readings should be completed before the class period for which they are assigned.

Required Textbooks:

Jon Elster. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press 1989. ISBN: 0521376068

Phillip Pollock. (text) The Essentials of Political Analysis. CQ Press 2002. ISBN: 1568026536

Phillip Pollock. (workbook) An SPSS Companion to Political Analysis. CQ Press 2002.ISBN: 1568027702

Susan E. Morgan, Thomas Reichert, Tyler R. Harrison. From Numbers to Words : Reporting Statistical Results for the Social Sciences. Allyn & Bacon; 1st edition 2001.ISBN: 080133280X

Course Schedule

The course is organized into three parts.
Part I. reviews theoretical approaches often used by political scientists.
Part II. introduces students to the basic vocabulary and logic of scientific research.
Part III. introduces students to methods of data analysis.

Part I. Theoretical Approaches in Political Science

Jan 18. Course description, brief history of political science

Jan -20. The nature of Political Science research
Pollock Essentials- Introduction and Chapter 8
Elster Chapter 1
How to write a research report SPSS Companion to Political Analysis (Chapter 10)

Jan 25. Rational Choice
Elster Chapters 2, 3, and 4

Jan 27. Unselfish or Arational models
Elster Chapters 5, 6, and 8

Feb 1. Games, Norms, and Collective Action
Elster Chapters 11, 12, and 13

Feb 3. Theoretical Approaches in Practice

POLI 4001 Readings for Feb. 3

Read the three articles from the list below. Take notes on the theoretical explanations used in each piece
  • Learning- by whom and of what?
  • Evolution- of what units and with what selection mechanism?
  • Rational Choice- who is choosing, and what goals do they try to obtain?
Be prepared to discuss each of the three articles in class.

Norms and Learning

Generations, Status and Party Identification: A Theory of Operant Conditioning Keith R. Billingsley; Clyde Tucker Political Behavior Vol. 9, No. 4 (1987), pp. 305-322


Evolutionary Paradigms in the Social Sciences George Modelski; Kazimierz Poznanski International Studies Quarterly Vol. 40, No. 3, Special Issue: Evolutionary Paradigms in the Social Sciences (Sep., 1996), pp. 315-319

Rational Choice

Is Nuclear Deterrence Rational? Steven J. Brams; D. Marc Kilgour PS Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1986), pp. 645-651
Wesley Schrum and John Kilburn 1996 “Ritual Disrobement at Mardi Gras: Ceremonial Exchange and Moral Order” Social Forces December 1996 75(2): 423-458. other readings TBA

Assignment 1 Modeling and Theorizing (Due Feb 10) Your turn to play Social Scientist

Feb 8 Mardi Gras Holiday (March 7-9)

Feb 10. Presentation and Discussion of Models/Theories

Part II. Logic of Social Science Research

Feb 15. Concepts, Units, and Measurement Pollock Ch 1

S. Stevens, "On The Theory of Scales of Measurement" Science Volume 103 Issue 2685 (June 7 1946) 677-680.

Feb 17. Concepts, Units, and Measurement in practice
Maier and Holbrook 'Seen my Opportunities'
Abney and Hill 'Natural Disasters'

Assignment 2 Measurement (Due Feb 22)
Evaluate Jeffrey Segal and Albert Cover. 1989. Ideological Values and the Votes of US Supreme Court Justices American Political Science Review V. 83 Issue 2 557-565.

Feb 22. Explanations and Hypotheses
Pollock Essentials- Ch 2

Feb 24. Research Design in Practice
Abney and Hill. Natural Disasters as a Political Variable: The Effect of a Hurricane on an Urban Election The American Political Science Review, Vol. 60, No. 4. (Dec., 1966), pp. 974-981.
Albert Cover and Bruce Brumberg Baby Books and Ballots: The Impact of Congressional Mail on Constituent Opinion The American Political Science Review 76: 347 – 359.

Assignment 3. Research Design (Due March 1)
Stephen Ansolabehere, Shanto Iyengar, Adam Simon, Nicholas Valentino Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate? The American Political Science Review, Vol. 88, No. 4. (Dec., 1994), pp. 829-838.

Part III. Introduction to Data Analysis

March 1. Basic Univariate Descriptions
Pollock Essentials-Ch 3 (1st half)

March 3. Introduction to SPSS

ASSIGNMENT 4 (Due March 10)
SPSS Companion (Chs. 1 and 2)

March 8. Basic Bivariate Comparisons
Pollock Essentials-Ch 3(2nd half)

March 10. Bivariate Comparisons in practice
Readings TBA

ASSIGNMENT 5 (Due March 17) SPSS Companion (Ch. 3)

March 15 Controlled Comparisons
Pollock Essentials-Ch 4

March 17 Did Bush Steal Florida in 2004?
Florida 2004 readings

What additional variable do the authors of the Caltech study argue you must "control for" in order to see the effect of optical scan machines in 2004?

Are Professors Liberal? Read Charles Spaulding and Henry Turner 1968. "Political Orientation and Field of Specialization among College Professors" Sociology of Education 41(3): 247-62.

ASSIGNMENT 6 (Due March 31) SPSS Companion (Chs. 4 and 5)

Week 10: March 22-24 Spring Break

March 29. Sampling and Inference Pollock Essentials-Ch 5

March 31. Samples vs. Sampling distributions

April 5. Tests of Significance and Measures of Association Pollock Essentials-Ch 6

April 7. Hypothesis Testing and Tea Tasting Ronald Fisher, The Design of Experiments London: Oliver and Boyd. Chapter 2.

ASSIGNMENT 7 (Due April 15) SPSS Companion (Chs. 6 and 7)

April 13. Correlation and Regression
Pollock Essentials-Ch 7

April 15. Correlation and Regression Continued

April 19. Multiple Regression
Readings TBA

April 21. Correlation and Regression in Practice
Readings TBA

ASSIGNMENT 8 (Due April 28) SPSS Companion (Chs. 8 and 9)

April 26. Critique of literature
Lewis-Beck and Alford 1980 “Can Government Regulate Mine Safety? The Coal Mine Example” APSR 74: 745-756.

April 28. Critique of literature
Joseph F. Sheley, Cindy D. Ashkins. “Crime, Crime News, and Crime Views” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4. (1981), pp. 492-506.

May 3 and 5. Semester Review

Research Project Due May 5

Final Exam TH May 12 12:30 –2:30