Guarding Against False Positives in Qualitative Comparative Analysis

Braumoeller, Bear F.
Political Analysis 23: 471–487, 2015

The various methodological techniques that fall under the umbrella description of qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) are increasingly popular for modeling causal complexity and necessary or sufficient conditions in medium-N settings. Because QCA methods are not designed as statistical techniques, however, there is no way to assess the probability that the patterns they uncover are the result of chance. Moreover, the implications of the multiple hypothesis tests inherent in these techniques for the false positive rate of the results are not widely understood. This article fills both gaps by tailoring a simple permutation test to the needs of QCA users and adjusting the Type I error rate of the test to take into account the multiple hypothesis tests inherent in QCA. An empirical application—a reexamination of a study of protest movement success in the Arab Spring—highlights the need for such a test by showing that even very strong QCA results may plausibly be the result of chance.