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ECPR General Conference 2020, University of Innsbruck

Experimental Designs in Political Science

Political Economy
Political Methodology
Political Psychology
Section Number
Section Chair
Theofanis Exadaktylos
University of Surrey
Section Co-Chair
Kathrin Thomas
Princeton University

Over the past decade, the value of experimental political science has been increasingly acknowledged in terms of, but not exclusive to, its important contribution to the study of causality in political phenomena. The popularity of experimental designs is evident in the increase of experimental articles submitted to highly ranked political science journals (Morton and Williams, 2010). Experimental designs are especially valuable as they allow systematic intervention in controlled environments in order to mainly study causal relations. Hence, they allow us to:

- Explore a variety of phenomena ranging from psychological mechanisms of attitude formation, identity and stereotypes, decision-making processes, political and electoral behavior to elite behavior and institutional effects, as well as political perceptions, learning and socialisation processes.
- Overcome research design problems that other methods contain with regard to causality;
- Provide high levels of internal (and sometimes even external) validity to the research.

Experimental designs in political science generate questions on:
- How can we effectively study causal relations using experiments?
- How can we overcome the challenges of experimental research and increase validity?
- To what extent can experiments supplement other methods of research?
- What are the opportunities in implementing experimental studies, given the introduction of sophisticated computer-based techniques in political science that allow us to simulate real-life conditions?

This Section aspires to put together contributions in Panels along the three dominant experimental designs (see Druckman et al. 2011 for an overview):
1. Lab experiments
2. Survey experiments
3. Field experiments

Lab experiments allow researchers to study political behavior under controlled conditions. Especially, lab experiments to study game theory approaches, (elite) decision-making procedures and behaviour are useful to explore the causes of effects observed in the real world (see Palfrey 2009, Morton 2014 for an overview). However, lab experiments are often criticized for their lack of external validity. They are yet particularly useful to study the underlying mechanisms and causes of political behavior. We particularly encourage submissions that explore the methodological approaches to enhance the validity of such experiments.

Survey experiments are commonly used to study political phenomena in a controlled environment, but on larger population samples to also enhance the external validity. Experimental designs in survey research also allow cutting edge approaches to improving survey research methods. Yet, many of the results derived on their basis require validation and replication in order to ensure whether or not the experimental design better estimates the behavior in question than direct survey questions (see e.g., Krumpal et al. 2015). We particularly encourage contributions that critically investigate and/or validate findings based on particular designs in adjunct fields and on representative samples.

Although field experiments have become particularly popular in US research, European political science still lacks research based on this kind of experimental designs. Few attempts have been made to study politics in the field (see e.g., Faas and Hohmann 2015). While this kind of experimental research is arguably not applicable to all sub-fields of political science (see Green and Gerber 2006 for an overview), they provide important insights into diverse dimensions of political behavior. They also allow validating findings based on lab experiments in the real world and are thus a particularly useful, yet largely underdeveloped field in European political science.

Yet, depending on the experimental design chosen, the ability of researchers to control independent variables limits the range of subjects that can be studied (Capelos 2014). Experimental research has often been criticized to achieve low levels of external validity (e.g. with regard to the samples and stimuli tested) and of choices of measurement and controlled variables. Furthermore, ethical considerations and challenges influence the way in which experiments can be fielded.

The Section invites Papers and Panels that serve to bring together researchers who use experimental methods and designs to address political phenomena. We encourage submissions of empirical work that engage with the method in any sub-field of political science and international relations. We particularly encourage contributions that focus on improving experimental methods and the validity of research based on experimental designs. We also welcome substantive contributions based on experimental research.

Experimental research represents an important and valuable field of research for political scientists in all subfields. Our Section provides experimentalists with the opportunity to improve the methodological approaches, to present, and to evaluate findings based on experimental designs, and to encourage fruitful discussions about the promising future of as well as the challenges and pitfalls of experimental methods.

We also welcome proposals that follow quasi-experimental approaches or complementary designs. Participants of all Panels are also invited to attend all Panels organized by the Section in order to encourage insights and to exchange views on the different techniques.

The organizers of the Section are the steering committee of the ECPR SG of Political Methodology and want to explore the possibility of a special issue stemming out of contributions to this Section.

About the organizers:

Philippe Blanchard is an assistant professor at the University of Warwick (UK) and member of the academic advisory board of the ECPR Methods School. He is an expert in content analysis and agenda and framing theories in public controversies.

Theofanis Exadaktylos is lecturer in European Politics at the University of Surrey. He has expertise in research methods and research design issues with regard to Europeanization research, content and discourse analysis.

Lea Sgier is an assistant professor in political science at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. She is an expert in discourse analysis and gender issues.

Kathrin Thomas is a research associate with the Austrian National Election Study in the Department of Methods in the Social Sciences. She has extensive experience and expertise in survey research methods including survey experiments.

Tomas Turner Zwinkels is doctoral candidate at ICS Graduate School, Groningen. His research methods interests focus on the application of computer-assisted techniques on classic research questions.

Additional Keywords: Experimental design, field experiments, lab experiments, survey experiments, mixed methods, causality

Panel List

Code Title Details
P010Applying Experimental Designs View Panel Details
P145Field and Natural Experiments in Political Research View Panel Details
P390Survey Experiments I: Applications of the Design View Panel Details
P391Survey Experiments II: From Design to Implementation View Panel Details
P456Using Lab Experiments in Political Research View Panel Details
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