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A Refresher of Inferential Statistics for Political Scientists

Elena Cristina Mitrea

Central European University

Elena Cristina Mitrea is a doctoral student in Comparative Politics at CEU.

She completed her MA in Political Science at CEU with a specialisation in Research Methodology.

Cristina is interested in political psychology and political socialisation and her research focuses on the transmission of ideology across generations in a comparative perspective.

Course Dates and Times

Thursday 28 - Saturday 30 July

10:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00

15 hours over 3 days

Prerequisite Knowledge

Although this is a refresher course and it is expected that most participants have been exposed to statistics courses in the past, the course is designed such that no statistical knowledge is pre-required.

Short Outline

This course offers an introduction to basic notions of descriptive and inferential statistics and covers the most commonly used statistical techniques in political science research. It aims is to give students the tools they need for analyzing quantitative data and interpreting reseach results. We begin with basic concepts of  descriptive statistics, continue with statistical tests for the comparison of two groups and tests of the association between two categorical variables and finish with notions of correlation and linear regression.

Long Course Outline

With the ubiquitous increase in the availability of quantitative data in political science, there is a growing need for literacy in analyzing and interpreting it. The goal of this course is to teach students the basic statistical techniques used in the field, which serve as a basis for moving on to more advanced statistical techniques. We will first go over various descriptive statistics which help organize and summarize data and then move on to inferential statistics which help answer general questions about unknown populations on the basis of limited information gathered from samples, the case for most of social science research.


The first part of the course will introduce the distinction between population and sample and discuss sampling error. We will then touch upon issues of measurement and scale, including the relationship between concepts and indicators, as well as validity and reliability. Next, we review frequency distributions and different measures of central tendency. Finally, we cover three measures of variability: the range, standard deviation and variance and go into the foundations of inferential statistics by discussing probability distributions, the normal distribution, the central limit theorem and standard error.


The second part of the course introduces some basic inferential techniques used in social science research. We will cover hypothesis testing, the difference between type I and type II errors and focus on two types of tests for comparing groups which use sample means and mean differences to draw inferences about the corresponding population parameters: the t-test for two independent and two related samples. We finally look at the association between categorical variables with the chi-square test for goodness of fit and the chi-square test for independence.


The final part of the course covers associations between continuous variables, namely bivariate correlation and simple linear regression. We will discuss the principles behind these two statistical techniques, the interpretation of results, the difference between correlation and causation and finish with model assumptions and the implications of violating them.

At the end of the course, participants should have a good understanding of the descriptive statistics used for organizing and summarizing results and of the principles of inferential statistics used for establishing relationships between samples and populations. Although no previous statistical knowledge is required, given the breadth of material covered, participants are expected to prepare for the course by completing the assigned readings. The lab sessions will be held in SPSS and will follow closely the structure of the material presented in class, giving participants the possibility to apply in practice the techniques learned in class.

Day Topic Details
Thursday Descriptive and inferential statistics

Populations and samples, measurement, frequency distributions, central tendency, variability, probability distributions; Lab on descriptive statistics

Friday Hypothesis testing

Hypothesis testing, the t test for two samples, chi-square test; Lab on inferential statistics

Saturday Correlation and Regression

Bivariate correlation and regression; Lab on regression analysis

Day Readings

Gravetter & Walnau, Ch. 1.1-1.4, Ch. 2, 3, Ch. 4.1-4.4, Ch. 5, 6, 7


Gravetter & Walnau, Ch. 8, 9, 10, 15


Gravetter & Walnau, Ch. 14

Software Requirements

We will use SPSS, no experience with the programme is assumed.

Hardware Requirements

For lab exercises, we will use a computer lab with SPSS installed.


Course reading:

Frederick J. Gravetter and Larry B. Wallnau (2014), Essentials of Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (8th Edition), Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.


Recommended further reading:

Agresti, Alan and Barbara Finlay (2008) Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences (4th edition), Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.

Berry, William (1993) Understanding Regression Assumptions, London: SAGE.

Field, Andy (2013) Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS (4th edition), London: SAGE.

Fox, John (1990) Regression diagnostics: An Introduction, London: SAGE.

Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.