Integrating Data Across Misaligned Spatial Units, Empirical Methodology in Political Science

Prof Zhukov will discuss his recent paper, titled Integrating Data Across Misaligned Spatial Units. Abstract: Theoretical units of interest often do not align with the spatial units at which data are available. This problem is pervasive in political science, particularly in sub-national empirical research that requires integrating data across incompatible geographic units (e.g., administrative areas, electoral constituencies, grid cells). Overcoming this challenge requires researchers not only to align the scale of empirical and theoretical units, but also to understand the consequences of this change of support for measurement error and statistical inference. We show how the accuracy of transformed values and the estimation of regression coefficients depend on the degree of nesting (i.e., whether units fall completely and neatly inside each other) and on the relative scale of source and destination units (i.e., aggregation, disaggregation, hybrid). We introduce simple, nonparametric measures of relative nesting and scale, as ex ante indicators of spatial transformation complexity and error susceptibility. Using election data and Monte Carlo simulations, we show that these measures are strongly predictive of transformation quality across multiple change-of-support methods. We propose several validation procedures and provide open-source software to make transformation options more accessible, customizable, and intuitive.