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TitleApplication of wavelets to the study of political history
Author(s)Aguiar-Conraria, Luís
Magalhães, Pedro C.
Soares, M. J.
Issue date2015
Abstract(s)The idea that social processes develop in a cyclical manner is somewhat like a `Lorelei'. Researchers are lured to it because of its theoretical promise, only to become entangled in (if not wrecked by) messy problems of empirical inference. The reasoning leading to hypotheses of some kind of cycle is often elegant enough, yet the data from repeated observations rarely display the supposed cyclical pattern. (...) In addition, various `schools' seem to exist which frequently arrive at di erent conclusions on the basis of the same data." (van der Eijk and Weber 1987:271). Much of the empirical controversies around these issues arise because of three distinct problems: the coexistence of cycles of di erent periodicities, the possibility of transient cycles and the existence of cycles without xed periodicity. In some cases, there are no reasons to expect any of these phenomena to be relevant. Seasonality caused by Christmas is one such example (Wen 2002). In such cases, researchers mostly rely on spectral analysis and Auto-Regressive Moving-Average (ARMA) models to estimate the periodicity of cycles.1 However, and this is particularly true in social sciences, sometimes there are good theoretical reasons to expect irregular cycles. In such cases, \the identi cation of periodic movement in something like the vote is a daunting task all by itself. When a pendulum swings with an irregular beat (frequency), and the extent of the swing (amplitude) is not constant, mathematical functions like sine-waves are of no use."(Lebo and Norpoth 2007:73) In the past, this di culty has led to two di erent approaches. On the one hand, some researchers dismissed these methods altogether, relying on informal alternatives that do not meet rigorous standards of statistical inference. Goldstein (1985 and 1988), studying the severity of Great power wars is one such example. On the other hand, there are authors who transfer the assumptions of spectral analysis (and ARMA models) into fundamental assumptions about the nature of social phenomena. This type of argument was produced by Beck (1991) who, in a reply to Goldstein (1988), claimed that only \ xed period models are meaningful models of cyclic phenomena".We argue that wavelet analysis|a mathematical framework developed in the mid-1980s (Grossman and Morlet 1984; Goupillaud et al. 1984) | is a very viable alternative to study cycles in political time-series. It has the advantage of staying close to the frequency domain approach of spectral analysis while addressing its main limitations. Its principal contribution comes from estimating the spectral characteristics of a time-series as a function of time, thus revealing how its di erent periodic components may change over time. The rest of article proceeds as follows. In the section \Time-frequency Analysis", we study in some detail the continuous wavelet transform and compare its time-frequency properties with the more standard tool for that purpose, the windowed Fourier transform. In the section \The British Political Pendulum", we apply wavelet analysis to essentially the same data analyzed by Lebo and Norpoth (2007) and Merrill, Grofman and Brunell (2011) and try to provide a more nuanced answer to the same question discussed by these authors: do British electoral politics exhibit cycles? Finally, in the last section, we present a concise list of future directions.
TypeBook part
Publisher version
AccessRestricted access (Author)
Appears in Collections:DMA - Livros e capítulos de livros
NIPE - Livros e Capítulos de Livros

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