Chapter 1 – Definition and Measurement of Concepts
• Concept: an idea or mental construct that represents phenomena in the real world
o Simple: political participation, social status
o Complicated: power, democratization, globalization
Refer to facts, not values
The primary goals of political research are to describe concepts and to analyze the
relationships between them
• Conceptual question: a question expressed using ideas, is frequently unclear and thus is
difficult to answer empirically
• Concrete question: a question expressed using tangible properties, can be answered
• Conceptual definition: describes clearly the concept’s measureable properties and
specifies the units of analysis (people, nations, states, and so on) to which the concept
applies. Ex: Liberalism – the extent to which individuals support increased government
spending for social programs.
• Operational definition: described the instrument to be used in measuring the concept
and putting a conceptual definition “into operation.”
Ex: Implementing the conceptual definition of liberalism – craft a series of ten or twelve
survey question and administer them to a large number of individuals. Each question
would name a specific social program: funding for education, assistance to the poor,
spending on medical care, etc. For each program, individuals would be asked whether
government spending should be decreased, kept the same, or increased.
Liberalism could then be operationally defined as the number of times a respondent said
“increased.” (High scores = more liberal / Lower scores = less liberal)
• An operational definition provides a procedural blueprint, a measurement
• The first step in defining a concept is to clarify its empirical meaning. To clarify a
concept, we begin by making an inventory of the concept’s concrete properties.
• Problems of the inventory-building process: 1. Think of empirical attributes that refer to a completely different concept
2. The inventory may include conceptual terms, with attributes that are not
3. The empirical properties may represent different dimensions of the concept
• After settling on a set of properties that best represent the concept, we write down
a definition of the concept. This definition makes clear the subjects to which the concept
applies and suggests a measurement strategy.
• Clarifying a Concept: The properties of a concept must have two characteristics –
they must be concrete and they must vary.
Ex:Are women more liberal than men?
-conceptual question because it uses the intangible term liberal (does not admit an
1. The conceptual term liberal represents measureable characteristics of people
-people with certain attributes or characteristics
2. Characteristics are concrete and vary – defining liberalism among individuals
-brainstorming polar-opposites (liberal vs. conservative) to produce a conceptual
Drop nonessential traits (liberals are not all necessarily low-income and young)
Make sure items are measureable (ex: opposes social justice and supports the free
market are not measureable)
• Conceptual dimension: defined by a set of concrete traits of similar type. (Some
concepts, such as liberalism, are multidimensional).
• Multidimensional concept: has two or more distinct groups of empirical
characteristics. In a multidimensional concept, each group contains empirical traits that
are similar to each other. Furthermore, each group of traits is qualitatively distinct from
other groups of traits. The different dimensions need to be identified, labeled, and
measured separately (i.e. economic liberalism and social liberalism).
• Two dimensions of democracy:
o Contestation: attributes that describe the competit