pvsR: An Open Source Interface to Big Data on the American Political Sphere
Digital data from the political sphere is abundant, omnipresent, and more and more directly accessible through the Internet. Project Vote Smart (PVS) is a prominent example of this big public data and covers various aspects of U.S. politics in astonishing detail. Despite the vast potential of PVS’ data for political science, economics, and sociology, it is hardly used in empirical research. The systematic compilation of semi-structured data can be complicated and time consuming as the data format is not designed for conventional scientific research. This paper presents a new tool that makes the data easily accessible to a broad scientific community. We provide the software called pvsR as an add-on to the R programming environment for statistical computing. This open source interface (OSI) serves as a direct link between a statistical analysis and the large PVS database. The free and open code is expected to substantially reduce the cost of research with PVS’ new big public data in a vast variety of possible applications. We discuss its advantages vis-à-vis traditional methods of data generation as well as already existing interfaces. The validity of the library is documented based on an illustration involving female representation in local politics. In addition, pvsR facilitates the replication of research with PVS data at low costs, including the pre-processing of data. Similar OSIs are recommended for other big public databases.