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How the Cases You Choose Affect the Answers You Get: Selection Bias in Comparative Politics


This article demonstrates how the selection of cases for study on the basis of outcomes on the dependent variable biases conclusions. It first lays out the logic of explanation and shows how it is violated when only cases that have achieved the outcome of interest are studied. It then examines three well-known and highly regarded studies in the field of comparative politics, comparing the conclusions reached in the original work with a test of the arguments on cases selected without regard for their position on the dependent variable. In each instance, conclusions based on the uncorrelated sample differ from the original conclusions.

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Christopher Achen , and Duncan Snidal . 1989. “Rational Deterrence Theory and Comparative Case Studies.” World Politics 41: 143–69.

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Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
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