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Using a Probabilistic Model to Assist Merging of Large-Scale Administrative Records



Since most social science research relies on multiple data sources, merging data sets is an essential part of researchers’ workflow. Unfortunately, a unique identifier that unambiguously links records is often unavailable, and data may contain missing and inaccurate information. These problems are severe especially when merging large-scale administrative records. We develop a fast and scalable algorithm to implement a canonical model of probabilistic record linkage that has many advantages over deterministic methods frequently used by social scientists. The proposed methodology efficiently handles millions of observations while accounting for missing data and measurement error, incorporating auxiliary information, and adjusting for uncertainty about merging in post-merge analyses. We conduct comprehensive simulation studies to evaluate the performance of our algorithm in realistic scenarios. We also apply our methodology to merging campaign contribution records, survey data, and nationwide voter files. An open-source software package is available for implementing the proposed methodology.


Corresponding author

*Ted Enamorado, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Politics, Princeton University,,
Benjamin Fifield, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Politics, Princeton University,,
Kosuke Imai, Professor, Department of Government and Department of Statistics, Harvard University.,


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The proposed methodology is implemented through an open-source R package, fastLink: Fast Probabilistic Record Linkage, which is freely available for download at the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN; We thank Bruce Willsie of L2 and Steffen Weiss of YouGov for data and technical assistance, Jake Bowers, Seth Hill, Johan Lim, Marc Ratkovic, Mauricio Sadinle, five anonymous reviewers, and audiences at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Columbia University (Political Science), Fifth Asian Political Methodology Meeting, Gakusyuin University (Law), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS) at Harvard University, the Quantitative Social Science (QSS) colloquium at Princeton University, Universidad de Chile (Economics), Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile (Government), the 2017 Summer Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology, the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences (CSSS) at the University of Washington for useful comments and suggestions. Replication materials can be found on Dataverse at:



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