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The Evolution of Political Behavior Research, 1980–2009 (WP-17-05)

Joshua Robison, Randy Stevenson, James Druckman, Simon Jackman, Jonathan Katz, and Lynn Vavreck

What are the most important concepts in the political behavior literature? Have experimental data sources supplanted surveys as the dominant method in political behavior research? What role does the American National Election Studies (ANES) continue to play in this literature? The researchers utilize a content analysis of over 1,100 quantitative articles on American mass political behavior published between 1980 and 2009 to answer these questions and thus provide a novel snapshot of the evolution of the field of political behavior. Four key takeaways are apparent. First, the agenda of this literature is heavily skewed toward understanding voting, rather than looking at specific policy attitudes and other topics. Second, experiments are ascendant, but nowhere close to displacing survey data sources, and particularly the ANES, as the central workhorse of American political behavior research. Third, while important changes to this agenda have occurred over time, it remains much the same as it was in 1980. Fourth, the centrality of the ANES seems to stem from its time-series component. In the end, the researchers conclude that the ANES is a critical investment for the scientific community and a main driver of political behavior research.

 Joshua Robison, Postdoctoral Fellow, Aarhus University

Randy Stevenson, Professor of Political Science, Rice University

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Simon Jackman, Professor of Political Science, University of Sydney

Jonathan Katz, Kay Sugahara Professor of Social Sciences and Statistics, California Institute of Technology

Lynn Vavreck, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles

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