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Estimating the Political Center from Aggregate Data: An Item Response Theory Alternative to the Stimson Dyad Ratios Algorithm

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

Anthony J. McGann*
School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, McCance Building, 16 Richmond Street, Glasgow G1 1XQ, United Kingdom, and Department of Political Science, University of California, Irvine, 3151 Social Science Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 email:


This article provides an algorithm to produce a time-series estimate of the political center (or median voter) from aggregate survey data, even when the same questions are not asked in most years. This is compared to the existing Stimson dyad ratios approach, which has been applied to various questions in political science. Unlike the dyad ratios approach, the model developed here is derived from an explicit model of individual behavior—the widely used item response theory model. I compare the results of both techniques using the data on public opinion from the United Kingdom from 1947 to 2005 from Bartle, Dellepiane-Avellaneda, and Stimson. Measures of overall model fit are provided, as well as techniques for testing model's assumptions and the fit of individual items. Full code is provided for estimation with free software WinBUGS and JAGS.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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