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Experimental Politics

This course is being conducted as a BSc seminar at the London School of Economics and Political Science, primarily for students in Government Department BSc programmes but it is open to students in other degree programmes, as well.

Overview and Syllabus

The purpose of this course is to develop students’ ability to critically analyse and evaluate the use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or “experiments” to develop evidence-based claims about politics.The course will introduce students to the use of experiments or randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in politics to evaluate policies, programmes, and theories, including the philosophical and statistical foundations of the method, as well as ethical, normative, and practical limitations of experimentation. The course will introduce the art, science, and ethics of experimentation, debate the validity and utility of experiments as a tool of evaluation and as the basis for policymaking, and examine the findings of experimental research in five distinct political and other real-world domains, possibly including:

  • Voter mobilization
  • Campaign message testing
  • Social media
  • International development
  • Legislatures
  • Public health
  • Small-group deliberation
  • Policy nudges

The specific set of topics discussed in the course will depend on student interest drawn from the following topics (and others discussed on the first day of class).

After this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe the logic of randomized experimentation for studying causal effects of interventions in comparison to other approaches.
  2. Evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and ethics of experiments as a research design and evaluation method.
  3. Analyse the use and utility of experimental methods in real world cases.
  4. Apply the logic of experimental methods to political science research questions.

These objectives will be achieved through in-class and out-of-class solo and group activities, class discussions, and engagement with lecture and reading material. Achievement will be evaluated - and feedback provided on those evaluations - in the manner described next.

You can find an outline of the course objectives, schedule for the course, and assigned readings in the Syllabus.

Availability and Prerequisites

This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations, and BSc in Politics and Philosophy.

Familiarity with basic algebra required and comfort with basic statistics as covered by GV249 Research Design in Political Science, or an equivalent course in research design or introductory statistics (such as ST102, ST107, ST108, GY140, SA201), is recommended.

Schedule and Slides

A final schedule is below:

  • Week 1: Introduction to Experiments
  • Week 2: Statistical Foundations I
  • Week 3: Statistical Foundations II
  • Week 4: Practical Issues
  • Week 5: The Politics of Evidence
  • Week 6: Reading Week (no lecture or class)
  • Week 7: Substantive Topic 1 (Policy nudges)
  • Week 8: Substantive Topic 2 (Turnout and voter persuasion)
  • Week 9: Substantive Topic 3 (Social media)
  • Week 10: Substantive Topic 4 (Deliberation)
  • Week 11: Substantive Topic 5 and Conclusion (Poverty alleviation)


The assessment for the course comes in two parts:

  • An independent, 2,250-word research essay in the form of either (a) a research design proposal or (b) a case study evaluating the use of randomised experiments in an applied context.
  • A 90-minute exam during ST that will evaluate students’ knowledge of course content, including statistical foundations of experimental research, how to draw inferences from randomised experiments, ethical issues, and knowledge of the various applications discussed in the course.

The individual essay will provide students an opportunity to achieve learning outcomes (3) and (4) in greater depth, by considering either a hypothetical application in the form of a research design paper that outlines the elements of an experimental research project (namely a research question, theoretical contribution, testable hypotheses, description of the proposed data collection and analysis, ethical considerations, and policy implications) or, alternatively, a critical case study on a given application of randomised experiments in an applied setting that analyses the context and use of experiments in a real-world case.

The material covered by the exam will be drawn explicitly and directly from lectures and readings, with class sessions providing both hands-on experience with statistical aspects and discussion of substantive topics. The exam will be designed to assess learning outcomes (1-4) and a formative problem set will provide an opportunity for feedback with respect to learning outcomes (1–2).

The essay is due via Moodle on 16 January 2018 at 5pm via Moodle. The essay should comply with LSE and Government Department policies on summative work. All summative work is subject to automatic plagiarism detection checks. Appropriate academic referencing (quotations, parenthetical citations, footnotes or endnotes, and bibliography) is required. LSE Life can provide support on academic writing and referencing.

Formative and summative coursework must comply with LSE’s policies on academic miconduct and plagiarism. Among other things, ``All work for classes and seminars (which could include, for example, written assignments, group work, presentations, and any other work, including computer programs) must be the student’s own work. Direct quotations from other work must be placed properly within quotation marks or indented and must be cited fully. All paraphrased material must be clearly acknowledged. Infringing this requirement, whether deliberately or not, or passing off the work of others as the student’s own work, whether deliberately or not, is plagiarism.’’ See the LSE Calendar for more information.