Skip to main content Accessibility help

Modernizing Political Science: A Model-Based Approach

  • Kevin A. Clarke (a1) and David M. Primo (a2)

Although the use of models has come to dominate much of the scientific study of politics, the discipline's understanding of the role or function that models play in the scientific enterprise has not kept pace. We argue that models should be assessed for their usefulness for a particular purpose, not solely for the accuracy of their predictions. We provide a typology of the uses to which models may be put, and show how these uses are obscured by the field's emphasis on model testing. Our approach highlights the centrality of models in scientific reasoning, avoids the logical inconsistencies of current practice, and offers political scientists a new way of thinking about the relationship between the natural world and the models with which we are so familiar.Kevin A. Clarke is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester ( and David M. Primo is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester (david.primo@ Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association and at the 2005 Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association and the Canadian Political Science Association; we thank the participants for their comments. We thank Chris Achen, Jim Alt, Jake Bowers, Henry Brady, Bear Braumoeller, John Duggan, Mark Fey, Rob Franzese, John Freeman, Gary Goertz, Miriam Golden, Jim Granato, Gretchen Helmke, John Jackson, Keith Krehbiel, Skip Lupia, Scott de Marchi, Andrew Martin, Becky Morton, Bob Pahre, Kevin Quinn, Curt Signorino, Randy Stone, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and discussion. We also thank Matt Jacobsmeier for research assistance. Support from the National Science Foundation (Clarke: Grant #SES-0213771, Primo: Grant #SES-0314786) is gratefully acknowledged.

Hide All


Achen, Christopher H. 1982. Interpreting and Using Regression. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Achen, Christopher H. 1992. Social psychology, demographic variables, and linear regression: Breaking the iron triangle in voting research. Political Behavior 14 (3): 195211.
Achen, Christopher H. 2002. Parental socialization and rational party identification. Political Behavior 24 (2): 15170.
Aldrich, John, and James Alt. 2003. Introduction to the special issue. Political Analysis 11 (4): 30915.
Arrow, Kenneth J. 1963. Social Choice and Individual Values. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley.
Banks, Jeffrey S., and John Duggan. 2000. A bargaining model of collective choice. American Political Science Review 94 (1): 7388.
Baron, David P., and John A. Ferejohn. 1989. Bargaining in legislatures. American Political Science Review 83 (4): 1181206.
Bawn, Kathleen. 1999. Money and majorities in the Federal Republic of Germany: Evidence for a veto players model of government spending. American Journal of Political Science 43 (3): 70736.
Beatty, John. 1980. Optimal-design models and the strategy of model building in evolutionary biology. Philosophy of Science 47 (4): 53261.
Brady, Henry E. 2004. Introduction to symposium: Two paths to a science of politics. Perspectives on Politics 2 (2): 295300.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and David Lalman. 1992. War and Reason. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cameron, Charles M., Jeffrey A. Segal, and Donald Songer. 2000. Strategic auditing in a political hierarchy: An informational model of the Supreme Court's certiorari decisions. American Political Science Review 94 (1): 10116.
Campbell, James E. 2004. Introduction—The 2004 presidential election forecasts. PS: Political Science & Politics 37 (4): 73336.
Campbell, James E., and James C. Garand, eds. 1999. Before the Vote: Forecasting American National Elections. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Clark, William Roberts, and Mark Hallerberg. 2000. Mobile capital, domestic institutions, and electorally induced monetary and fiscal policy. American Political Science Review 94 (2): 32346.
da Costa, Newton C.A., and Steven French. 1990. The model-theoretic approach in the philosophy of science. Philosophy of Science 57 (2): 24865.
Doron, Gideon, and Itai Sened. 2001. Political Bargaining: Theory, Practice and Process. London: Sage.
Downes, Stephen M. 1992. The importance of models in theorizing: A deflationary semantic view. PSA 1992: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1: 14253.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Fiorina, Morris P. 1994. Response to Born. Legislative Studies Quarterly 19 (1): 11725.
Geddes, Barbara. 2003. Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
Gibbard, Allan, and Hal R. Varian. 1978. Economic models. Journal of Philosophy 75 (11): 66477.
Giere, Ronald N. 1984. Understanding Scientific Reasoning. 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Giere, Ronald N. 1990. Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Giere, Ronald N. 1999. Using models to represent reality. In Model-Based Reasoning in Scientific Discovery, ed. L. Magnani, N.J. Nersessian, and P. Thagard. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Glymour, Clark. 1980a. Hypothetico-deductivism is hopeless. Philosophy of Science 47 (2): 32225.
Glymour, Clark. 1980b. Theory and Evidence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Granato, Jim, and Frank Scioli. 2004. Puzzles, proverbs, and omega matrices: The scientific and social significance of empirical implications of theoretical models (EITM). Perspectives on Politics 2 (2): 31323.
Grimes, Thomas R. 1990. Truth, content, and the hypothetico-deductive method. Philosophy of Science 57 (9): 51422.
Grunbaum, Adolf, and Wesley C. Salmon, eds. 1988. The Limitations of Deductivism. Pittsburgh Series in Philosophy and History of Science. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Haggett, Peter, and Richard J. Chorley. 1967. Models, paradigms, and the new geography. In Models in Geography, ed. Richard J. Chorley and Peter Haggett. London: Methuen and Co., LTD.
Hardcastle, Valerie Gray. 1994. Philosophy of psychology meets the semantic view. PSA 1994: Proceedings of the Biennnial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2: 2434.
Hausman, Daniel M. 1992. The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hempel, Carl G., and Peter Oppenheim. 1948. Studies in the logic of explanation. Philosophy of Science 15 (2): 13575.
Huth, Paul K., and Todd L. Allee. 2002. The Democratic Peace and Territorial Conflict in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hutten, E.H. 1954. The role of models in physics. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4 (16): 284301.
Knight, Jack. 2001. “Law and Rational Choice.” Working paper.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1991. Information and Legislative Organization. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1998. Pivotal Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krugman, Paul. 1994. The fall and rise of development economics. In Rethinking the Development Experience, ed. Lloyd Rodwin and Donald A. Schon. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.
Kyburg, Henry E. 1988. The justification of deduction in science. In The Limitations of Deductivism, ed. Adolf Grunbaum and Wesley C. Salmon. Pittsburgh Series in Philosophy and History of Science. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Laver, Michael. 1997. Private Desires, Political Action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Tom W. Rice. 1992. Forecasting Elections. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Lloyd, Elizabeth A. 1988. The semantic approach and its application to evolutionary theory. PSA 1988: Proceedings of the Biennnial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2: 27885.
Moe, Terry M. 1979. On the scientific status of rational models. American Journal of Political Science 23 (1): 21543.
Morton, Adam. 1993. Mathematical models: Questions of trustworthiness. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (4): 65974.
Morton, Rebecca B. 1999. Methods and Models: A Guide to the Empirical Analysis of Formal Models in Political Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
National Science Foundation. 2002. “EITM: Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models Report.” Publication of the Political Science Program.
Norris, Pippa. 2004. Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Putnam, Hilary. 1991. The “corroboration” of theories. In The Philosophy of Science, ed. Richard Boyd, Philip Gasper, and J.D. Trout. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Riker, William H. 1977. The future of a science of politics. American Behavioral Scientist 21 (1): 1138.
Riker, William H. 1990. Political science and rational choice. In Perspectives on Positive Political Economy, ed. James E. Alt and Kenneth A. Shepsle. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Romer, Thomas, and Howard Rosenthal. 1978. Political resource allocation, controlled agendas, and the status quo. Public Choice 33 (11): 2743.
Salmon, Wesley C. 1988. Introduction. In The Limitations of Deductivism, ed. Adolf Grunbaum and Wesley C. Salmon. Pittsburgh Series in Philosophy and History of Science. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Suppe, Frederick. 1977. The Structure of Scientific Theories. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Suppe, Frederick. 1989. The Semantic Conception of Theories and Scientific Realism. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Suppe, Frederick. 2000. Understanding scientific theories: An assessment of developments, 1969–1998. Philosophy of Science 67 (3, Supplement): S102S115.
Suppes, Patrick. 1967. What is a scientific theory? In Philosophy of Science Today, ed. Sidney Morgenbesser. New York: Basic Books.
Tetlock, Philip E., and Aaron Belkin, eds. 1996. Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Thompson, Paul. 1983. The structure of evolutionary theory: A semantic approach. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 14 (September): 21529.
Thompson, Paul. 1986. The interaction of theories and the semantic conception of evolutionary theory. Philosophica 37 (1): 7386.
Thompson, Paul. 1988. Explanation in the semantic conception of theory structure. PSA 1988: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 2: 28696.
van Fraassen, Bas C. 1980. The Scientific Image. New York: Oxford University Press.
van Fraassen, Bas C. 1989. Laws and Symmetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Walt, Stephen M. 1999. Rigor or rigor mortis? Rational choice and security studies. International Security 23 (1): 548.
Waters, Kenneth. 1987. Relevance logic brings hope to hypothetico-deductivism. Philosophy of Science 54 (3): 45364.
White, Roger. 2003. The epistemic advantage of prediction over accommodation. Mind 112 (448): 65383.
Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed