Many perceive the clash between those advocating rational choice theory
and their critics to be the dominant cleavage in contemporary political science.
At least as fundamental, if much less widely discussed, is the divide over the
role of historical analysis (or the investigation of temporal processes). Most
social scientists take a “snapshot” view of political life. How does
the distribution of public opinion affect policy outcomes? How do individual
social characteristics influence propensities to vote? How do electoral rules
affect the structure of party systems? Disputes among competing theories center
on which factors (“variables”) in the current environment generate
important political outcomes. Variable-centered analy- ses are based, however,
on some questionable assump- tions about how the social world works.