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“Experimental Research in Legislative Studies” Short Course

This page holds materials for a one-day course on “Experimental Research in Legislative Studies” that I will be teaching at the ECPR Summer School on Parliaments at Humboldt University Berlin August 18, 2017.


This course will use published and unpublished examples of experimental research on legislatures to examine possibilities and challenges in implementing experimental research on elite populations. By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Explain how to analyze experiments quantitatively.
  2. Explain how to design experiments that speak to relevant research questions and theories.
  3. Evaluate the uses and limitations of three common legislative experimental paradigms: survey experiments, field experiments, and simulations.
  4. Identify practical issues that arise in the implementation of experiments and evaluate how to anticipate and respond to them.

The course will provide a general introduction to causal inference in experiments, then evaluate three common paradigms for experimental research on legislatures: survey experiments, field (and quasi-)experiments, and simulations. All discussions will be based upon published example articles.

For background reading, students may be interested in the following review articles:

  • Druckman, Leeper, Mullinix (2011) - “The Experimental Study of Legislative Behaviour”
  • Grose (2014) - “Field Experimental Work on Political Institutions”

An outline of the course is given below, along with required and suggested reading for each session. All readings are available here.

First Session (Morning)

The first session will provide an overview of the course, discuss the history of experiments, and provide a conceptual and notational framework for designing, analyzing, and discussing experiments.

  • Slides (for entire day)

  • Suggested: Gerber and Green (2008) - “Field Experiments and Natural Experiments” (Ch. 15 from Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology)
  • Suggested: Holland, P. W. 1986. “Statistics and Causal Inference.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 81: 945-960.

  • Materials from Anchoring Experiment Activity

Second Session (Morning)

The second session will discuss the three dominant paradigms of experiments in legislative contexts: field experiments and quasi-experiments, survey experiments, and simulation studies, with reference to published and unpublished examples. All reuqired and suggested readings are available here.

Field experiments orchestrated by researchers:

  • Required: Broockman (2013) - “Black Politicians Are More Intrinsically Motivated to Advance Blacks’ Interests: A Field Experiment Manipulating Political Incentives”
  • Suggested: Butler, Broockman (2011) - “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate Against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators”
  • Suggested: Neblo, Esterling, Kennedy, Lazer, Sokhey (2010) - “Who Wants To Deliberate—And Why?”
  • Suggested: Esterling, Neblo, Lazer (2011) - “Means, Motive, And Opportunity In Becoming Informed About Politics”
  • Suggested: Butler, Nickerson (2011) - “Can Learning Constituency Opinion Affect How Legislators Vote? Results from a Field Experiment”

Field/quasi-experiments not orchestrated by researchers:

  • Suggested: Cirone, van Coppenolle (2017) - “Cabinets, Committees and Careers: A Natural Experiment in 19th Century France”
  • Suggested: Broockman, Butler (2015) - “Do Better Committee Assignments Meaningfully Benefit Legislators? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in the Arkansas State Legislature”
  • Suggested: Kellermann, Shepsle (2009) - “Congressional Careers, Committee Assignments, and Seniority Randomization in the US House of Representatives”
  • Suggested: Loewen, Koop, Settle, Fowler (2014) - “A Natural Experiment in Proposal Power and Electoral Success”
  • Suggested: Chattopadhyay, Duflo (2004) - “Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India”
  • Suggested: Bhavnani (2009) - “Do Electoral Quotas Work after They Are Withdrawn? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in India”
  • Suggested: Rogowski, Sinclair (2012) - “Estimating the Causal Effects of Social Interaction with Endogenous Networks”

Survey (interview-based) experiments:

  • Required: Renshon, Yarhi-Milo, and Kertzer (2016) - “Democratic Leaders, Crises and War: Paired Experiments on the Israeli Knesset and Public”
  • Suggested: Butler, Dynes (2016) - “How Politicians Discount the Opinions of Constituents with Whom They Disagree”
  • Suggested: Butler, Powell (2014) - “Understanding the Party Brand: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Valence”
  • Suggested: Walgrave, Sevenans, Van Camp, Loewen (2017) - “What Draws Politicians’ Attention? An Experimental Study of Issue Framing and its Effect on Individual Political Elites”
  • Suggested: Bayram (2017) - “Due Deference: Cosmopolitan Social Identity and the Psychology of Legal Obligation in International Politics”

Parliamentary simulations and game theoretic experiments:

  • Required: Frechette, Kagel, Lehrer (2003) - “Bargaining in Legislatures: An Experimental Investigation of Open versus Closed Amendment Rules”
  • Suggested: McKelvey, Ordeshook (JOP, 1984) - “An Experimental Study of the Effects of Procedural Rules on Committee Behavior”
  • Suggested: Wilson (1986) - “Forward and Backward Agenda Procedures: Committee Experiments on Structurally Induced Equilibrium”
  • Suggested: Eckel, Holt (1989) - “Strategic Voting in Agenda-Controlled Committee Experiments”
  • Suggested: Bianco, Lynch, Miller, Sened (2008) - “The Constrained Instability of Majority Rule: Experiments on the Robustness of the Uncovered Set”
  • Suggested: Goeree, Yariv (2011) - “An Experimental Study of Collective Deliberation”

Afternoon Session

In the afternoon session, students will present working papers and the day will conclude with a summative discussion of issues raised and paths forward.

Instructor Bio

Thomas J. Leeper is an Associate Professor in Political Behaviour in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He studies public opinion dynamics using survey and experimental methods, with a focus on citizens’ information acquisition, elite issue framing, and party endorsements within the United States and Western Europe. His research has been published in leading journals, including American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Psychology among others.