Theory and Methods in the Study of Distributive Politics

Forthcoming, Political Science Research and Methods

17 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2017

See all articles by Michael Albertus

Michael Albertus

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 10, 2017


This Research Note examines key issues of fit between theory and methods in the study of distributive politics. While many scholars have moved toward using individual-level data to test theories of distributive politics, no studies have ever explicitly examined differences between individual and aggregate analyses of a distributive program. By leveraging nationwide individual-level data on both revealed voter preferences and the actual receipt of particularistic benefits through a contemporary Venezuelan land reform initiative, this Research Note demonstrates that scholars can most effectively test and refine individual-level theories of distributive politics by combining both individual and macro-level data. There are at least two advantages to doing so. First, comparing and contrasting findings from data at different levels of analysis can enable researchers to paint a more complete picture of distributive targeting. Second, when distributive benefits can be impacted or redirected by subnational politicians, as is common with many distributive programs, individual-level data alone can generate mistaken inferences that are an artifact of competing targeting attempts at different levels of government instead of initial targeting strategies. I demonstrate both of these points and discuss practical and simple recommendations regarding data collection strategies for the purposes of effectively testing theories of distributive politics.

Suggested Citation

Albertus, Michael, Theory and Methods in the Study of Distributive Politics (March 10, 2017). Forthcoming, Political Science Research and Methods, Available at SSRN:

Michael Albertus (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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