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Data Analysis and Interpretation (PO906)

Should Scotland be an Independent Country?

Topics covered

The following is an indicative list of topics; the precise seminar content and order may change slightly from year to year.

  • Statistics in politics and political science: uses and misuses.
  • Basic ingredients for statistical analyses: variables, levels of measurement, sampling, distributions, data sources and data generation.
  • Descriptive statistics: frequencies and proportions, central tendency and dispersion, standardisation, visualizations
  • Relationships between two variables: test of dependence, correlation and cross-tabs, causation
  • Introducing a third variable: multiple cross-tabulations, control, multivariate relationships
  • Simple linear regression: the OLS principle, parameters, interpretation
  • Test statistics: comparison of means and standard deviations
  • An example of a multiple-variable design: cluster analysis or multiple regression.

Methods are central skills for analysing politics. Among the multiple methods developed by political scientists or imported by them from other disciplines, statistics hold a substantial position. Modern politics are about mobilising numerous resources and governing masses of people. Understanding (and practising) political numbers, whether election results, political behaviours, values and opinions, organisational data or macro-data in international relations and international political economy, more and more requires statistical tools.

The course follows two objectives: improving one's ability to read and discuss academic texts that include statistics, as well as non-academic texts issued by the press, the administration or political organisations; managing, processing and interpreting statistical data, either from primary or secondary sources.

Programme content

We will discuss different methods, in a progress from simple to more elaborate ones, assessing their respective advantages, disadvantages and applicability. We will assess how they can contribute to the description and explanation of various political objects at national and international levels. We will emphasize the importance of selecting the appropriate method given one's theory, data and research goals. This will not be an abstract statistics course, but a comprehensive approach to political numbers, in keeping with all research courses students may have attended previously and concurrently.

The course will include example data from diverse fields of political science, in particular surveys on attitudes and opinions. Individual surveys are a major source of quality information about the vote, ideology, protest attitudes, policy opinions and other political attitudes. Demonstrated examples, exercises and essays will be based on a selection of datasets, such as the British Social Attitudes Survey, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, the European Social Survey, the World Values Survey, and the International Social Survey Programme.

In particular, by the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • understand the differences and commonalities between statistical tools and other methods;
  • select the appropriate research techniques;
  • properly design a research;Scottish independence polls graphic
  • define and test hypotheses rigorously;
  • use statistical software to analyse real data;
  • make the best use of quantitative research in political science journals;
  • learn independently more advanced or specialised statistical procedures;
  • apply valuable tools in many workplace settings.

Module Director:
Philippe Blanchard

CATS: 20 (term 1)