A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 34
Political Methodology: Research Design and Experimental Methods

Kathleen M. McGraw

THE first important extensive discussion of experimentation for a political science audience was provided by Richard Brody and Charles Brownstein in their chapter for the 1975 Handbook of Political Science. ( McConahy wrote a related piece for the 1972 Handbook of Political Psychology.) In the final sentence of their chapter, Brody and Brownstein ( 1975: 254) concluded that "the more general application of the logic of experimentation is long overdue in political research." Recent evidence suggests that political scientists heeded this call during the ensuing twenty years. Experimentation is alive and well, increasingly prominent and well- regarded in the discipline ( Kinder and Palfrey 1991; 1992a; 1992b; McGraw and Hoekstra 1994). Two decades ago, experimentation was largely limited to research in the substantive areas of political psychology and policy evaluation, with practitioners often forced to be defensive about their methodological choice. But the acceptance of experimentation is increasingly evident in the "mainstream" political science research community, suggesting its heightened legitimacy (see McGraw and Hoekstra 1994, for documentation of publication trends). By way of additional evidence: in the 1993 State of the Discipline volume ( Finifter 1993), the chapters on formal rational choice theory ( Lalman, Oppenheimer and Swistak 1993), political methodology ( Bartels and Brady 1993), public opinion ( Sniderman 1993), and political communication ( Graber 1993) all contain positive and even enthusiastic discussions of the contribution experimentation has made to those substantive areas and the discipline more generally.

I have two goals in this chapter. In the first half, I describethe basic principles that characterize experimentation, point to recent controversies and concerns about these defining attributes, and provide suggestions as to

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