On the Validity of the Regression Discontinuity Design for Estimating Electoral Effects: New Evidence from over 40,000 Close Races

American Journal of Political Science 59(1):259-274

Formerly MIT Political Science Department Working Paper Series No 2013-26

31 Pages Posted: 16 May 2013 Last revised: 19 Feb 2016

Andrew C. Eggers

University of Oxford

Anthony Fowler

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science; Stanford Graduate School of Business; Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

Andrew B. Hall

Stanford University

James M. Snyder Jr.

Harvard University

Date Written: March 1, 2014

Abstract

The regression discontinuity (RD) design is a valuable tool for identifying electoral effects, but this design is only effective when relevant actors do not have precise control over election results. Several recent papers contend that such precise control is possible in large elections, pointing out that the incumbent party is more likely to win very close elections in the U.S. House of Representatives in recent periods. In this paper, we examine whether similar patterns occur in other electoral settings, including the U.S. House in other time periods, statewide, state legislative, and mayoral races in the U.S., and national or local elections in a variety of other countries. No other case exhibits this pattern. We also cast doubt on suggested explanations for incumbent success in close House races. We conclude that the assumptions behind the RD design are likely to be met in a wide variety of electoral settings and offer a set of best practices for RD researchers going forward.

Keywords: regression discontinuity, election, causal inference

JEL Classification: C14; C21

Suggested Citation

Eggers, Andrew C. and Fowler, Anthony and Hainmueller, Jens and Hall, Andrew B. and Snyder, James M., On the Validity of the Regression Discontinuity Design for Estimating Electoral Effects: New Evidence from over 40,000 Close Races (March 1, 2014). Formerly MIT Political Science Department Working Paper Series No 2013-26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2265625 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2265625

Andrew C. Eggers

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Anthony Fowler (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.stanford.edu/~jhain/

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

30 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Andrew B. Hall

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

James M. Snyder Jr.

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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