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Archive of posts filed under the Political Science category.

Some U.S. demographic data at zipcode level conveniently in R

Ari Lamstein writes: I chuckled when I read your recent “R Sucks” post. Some of the comments were a bit … heated … so I thought to send you an email instead. I agree with your point that some of the datasets in R are not particularly relevant. The way that I’ve addressed that is […]

Survey weighting and that 2% swing

Nate Silver agrees with me that much of that shocking 2% swing can be explained by systematic differences between sample and population: survey respondents included too many Clinton supporters, even after corrections from existing survey adjustments. In Nate’s words, “Pollsters Probably Didn’t Talk To Enough White Voters Without College Degrees.” Last time we looked carefully […]

An exciting new entry in the “clueless graphs from clueless rich guys” competition

Jeff Lax points to this post from Matt Novak linking to a post by Matt Taibbi that shares the above graph from newspaper columnist / rich guy Thomas Friedman. I’m not one to spend precious blog space mocking bad graphs, so I’ll refer you to Novak and Taibbi for the details. One thing I do […]

Interesting epi paper using Stan

Jon Zelner writes: Just thought I’d send along this paper by Justin Lessler et al. Thought it was both clever & useful and a nice ad for using Stan for epidemiological work. Basically, what this paper is about is estimating the true prevalence and case fatality ratio of MERS-CoV [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection] […]

OK, sometimes the concept of “false positive” makes sense.

Paul Alper writes: I know by searching your blog that you hold the position, “I’m negative on the expression ‘false positives.’” Nevertheless, I came across this. In the medical/police/judicial world, false positive is a very serious issue: $2 Cost of a typical roadside drug test kit used by police departments. Namely, is that white powder […]

An election just happened and I can’t stop talking about it

Some things I’ve posted elsewhere: The Electoral College magnifies the power of white voters (with Pierre-Antoine Kremp) I’m not impressed by this claim of vote rigging And, in case you missed it: Explanations for that shocking 2% shift Coming soon: What theories in political science got supported or shot down by the 2016 election? (with […]

“US Election Analysis 2016: Media, Voters and the Campaign”

Darren Lilleker, Einar Thorsen, Daniel Jackson, and Anastasia Veneti edited this insta-book of post-election analyses. Actually, at least one of these chapters was written before the election. When the editors asked me if I could contribute to this book, I said, sure, and I pointed them to this article from a few weeks ago, “Trump-Clinton […]

Individual and aggregate patterns in the Equality of Opportunity research project

Dale Lehman writes: I’ve been looking at the work of the Equality of Opportunity Project and noticed that you had commented on some of their work. Since you are somewhat familiar with the work, and since they do not respond to my queries, I thought I’d ask you about something that is bothering me. I, […]

Know-it-all neuroscientist explains Trump’s election victory to the rest of us

Alex Gamma points us to the latest atrocity of pseudo-science in the popular press:

Anti-immigration attitudes: they didn’t want a bunch of Hungarian refugees coming in the 1950s

In a post entitled “Not that complicated,” sociologist David Weakliem writes: A few days ago, an article in the New York Times by Amanda Taub said that working-class support for Donald Trump reflected a “crisis of white identity.” Today, Ross Douthat said that it reflected the “thinning out of families.” The basic idea in both […]

En bra statistiklektion

Whatever. According to the translation, the show also includes “how paralyzed monkeys can walk again with the help of wireless burglar connection of neural pathways, how overfed planted salmon survive poorly in the wild, and how much of society’s most important job that can be done from home when snow chaos so requires.”

The role of models and empirical work in political science

Bill Kelleher writes: I recently posted a review of A Model Discipline, by Clarke and Primo on My review is entitled “Why Physics Envy will Persist,” at As you likely know, they are critical of the widespread belief among political scientists in the hypothetical-deductive method. As part of my review of the book, […]

Election surprise, and Three ways of thinking about probability

Background: Hillary Clinton was given a 65% or 80% or 90% chance of winning the electoral college. She lost. Naive view: The poll-based models and the prediction markets said Clinton would win, and she lost. The models are wrong! Slightly sophisticated view: The predictions were probabilistic. 1-in-3 events happen a third of the time. 1-in-10 […]

David Rothschild and Sharad Goel called it (probabilistically speaking)

David Rothschild and Sharad Goel write: In a new paper with Andrew Gelman and Houshmand Shirani-Mehr, we examined 4,221 late-campaign polls — every public poll we could find — for 608 state-level presidential, Senate and governor’s races between 1998 and 2014. Comparing those polls’ results with actual electoral results, we find the historical margin of […]

Can a census-tract-level regression analysis untangle correlation between lead and crime?

Daniel Hawkins pointed me to a post by Kevin Drum entitled, “Crime in St. Louis: It’s Lead, Baby, Lead,” and the associated research article by Brian Boutwell, Erik Nelson, Brett Emo, Michael Vaughn, Mario Schootman, Richard Rosenfeld, Roger Lewis, “The intersection of aggregate-level lead exposure and crime.” The short story is that the areas of […]

How effective (or counterproductive) is universal child care? Part 2

This is the second of a series of two posts. Yesterday we discussed the difficulties of learning from a small, noisy experiment, in the context of a longitudinal study conducted in Jamaica where researchers reported that an early-childhood intervention program caused a 42%, or 25%, gain in later earnings. I expressed skepticism. Today I want […]

Explanations for that shocking 2% shift

The title of this post says it all. A 2% shift in public opinion is not so large and usually would not be considered shocking. In this case the race was close enough that 2% was consequential. Here’s the background: Four years ago, Mitt Romney received 48% of the two-party vote and lost the presidential […]

A 2% swing: The poll-based forecast did fine (on average) in blue states; they blew it in the red states

The big story in yesterday’s election is that Donald Trump did about 2% better than predicted from the polls. Trump got 50% of the two-party vote (actually, according to the most recent count, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, just barely) but was predicted to get only 48%. First let’s compare the 2016 election to […]

How effective (or counterproductive) is universal child care? Part 1

This is the first of a series of two posts. We’ve talked before about various empirically-based claims of the effectiveness of early childhood intervention. In a much-publicized 2013 paper based on a study of 130 four-year-old children in Jamaica, Paul Gertler et al. claimed that a particular program caused a 42% increase in the participants’ […]

Election forecasting updating error: We ignored correlations in some of our data, thus producing illusory precision in our inferences

The election outcome is a surprise in that it contradicts two pieces of information: Pre-election polls and early-voting tallies. We knew that each of these indicators could be flawed (polls because of differential nonresponse; early-voting tallies because of extrapolation errors), but when the two pieces of evidence came to the same conclusion, they gave us […]