Causal Inference and American Political Development: Contrasts and Complementarities

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Causal inference, American political development (APD), Contrasts

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Political Science


Causal inference and American political development (APD) are widely separated and (to some) fundamentally incompatible tendencies within political science. In this paper, we explore points of connection between those two perspectives, while also highlighting differences that are not so easily bridged. We stress that both causal inference and APD are centrally interested in questions of causation, but they approach causation with very different ontological and epistemological commitments. We emphasize how the sort of detailed, contextualized, and often qualitative knowledge privileged by APD can promote credible causal (and descriptive) inferences, but also that scholars of causal inference can benefit from alternate conceptions of causality embraced by APD work. We illustrate with two empirical examples from our own research: devising weights for quota-sampled opinion polls and estimating the political effects of the Tennessee Valley Authority. We conclude that bringing APD and causal inference together on more equal terms may require a broader perspective on causation than is typical of scholarship in the causal-inference tradition.

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