The obvious difficulty is how to do that. In our model, many of our agents’ characteristics are limited to values between 0 and 1 (e.g., political positions, weights on given issues). Many standard distributions, such as the normal, would be cut off at these extremes, creating unrealistic “spikes” of extreme behaviour. We also cannot use uniform distributions, as the likelihood of individuals in a group looking somewhat the same (i.e., more around an average) seems much more reasonable than them looking uniformly different.
Which brings us to the β distribution. In a new paper, we discuss applying this family of distributions to voter characteristics. While there is great diversity in the potential shapes of these distributions - granting us the flexibility we need - in (likely) very extreme cases, the shape will not “look like” what we would expect. Therefore, one of our goals will be to somewhat constrain our selection of fixed values for α and β, based on as much empirical data as possible, to ensure we get this balance right.
A selection α-β combinations that generate “useful” distributions: