The Sensitivity of Spatial Regression Models to Network Misspecification

Political Analysis, forthcoming

Spatial econometric models become increasingly popular in various subfields of political science. However, the necessity to specify the underlying network of dependencies, denoted W, prior to estimation is a prevalent source of criticism since the true dependence structure is rarely known and theories mostly provide insufficient guidance. The present study investigates the effects of this network uncertainy which is a special case of model uncertainty that arises from uncertainty about the correct specification of W. It advocates Bayesian model averaging (BMA) as a superior approach to this problem, located at the intersection of theory and empirics. Conducting Monte Carlo experiments, I demonstrate that, while the effect estimates are robust towards a misspecification in the functional form of W, uncertainty in the neighborhood definition can bias the effect estimates derived from spatial autoregressive models. In contrast to alternative techniques, BMA directly addresses network uncertainty, correctly identifies the true network structure in the set of feasible alternatives, and provides unbiased effect estimates. Two replication studies from different subfields of the discipline illustrate the benefits of this approach for applied research.

[Replication Materials]

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