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Measurement Uncertainty in Spatial Models: A Bayesian Dynamic Measurement Model

  • Sebastian Juhl (a1)

According to spatial models of political competition, parties strategically adjust their ideological positions to movements made by rival parties. Spatial econometric techniques have been proposed to empirically model such interdependencies and to closely convert theoretical expectations into statistical models. Yet, these models often ignore that the parties’ ideological positions are latent variables and, as such, accompanied by a quantifiable amount of uncertainty. As a result, the implausible assumption of perfectly measured covariates impedes a proper evaluation of theoretical propositions. In order to bridge this gap between theory and empirics, the present work combines a spatial econometric model and a Bayesian dynamic item response model. The proposed model accurately accounts for measurement uncertainty and simultaneously estimates the parties’ ideological positions and their spatial interdependencies. To verify the model’s utility, I apply it to recorded votes from the sixteen German state legislatures in the period from 1988 to 2016. While exhibiting a notable degree of ideological mobility, the results indicate only moderate spatial dependencies among parties of the same party family. More importantly, the analysis illustrates how measurement uncertainty can lead to substantively different results which stresses the importance of appropriately incorporating theoretical expectations into statistical models.

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Author’s note: An earlier version of this work has been presented at the EPSA conference 2017 in Milan, Italy and the 2018 annual conference of the PSA Political Methodology Group in Essex, UK. I would like to thank Thomas Bräuninger, Heike Klüver, Roni Lehrer, the journal’s editor Jeff Gill, and four anonymous reviewers for valuable comments. I also thank Lea Manger and Oksana Basik for research assistance. Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis website and replication materials are retrievable from the Political Analysis Dataverse (Juhl 2018). This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) via the SFB 884 on “The Political Economy of Reforms” (Project C2) and the University of Mannheim’s Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences (GESS).

Contributing Editor: Jeff Gill

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