Using Conjoint Experiments to Analyze Election Outcomes: The Essential Role of the Average Marginal Component Effect (AMCE)
59 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020 Last revised: 22 Jan 2022
Date Written: January 20, 2022
Political scientists have increasingly deployed conjoint survey experiments to understand multi-dimensional choices in various settings. In this paper, we show that the Average Marginal Component Effect (AMCE) constitutes an aggregation of individual-level preferences that is meaningful both theoretically and empirically. First, extending previous results to allow for arbitrary randomization distributions, we show how the AMCE represents a summary of voters' multidimensional preferences that combines directionality and intensity according to a probabilistic generalization of the Borda rule. We demonstrate why incorporating both the directionality and intensity of multi-attribute preferences is essential for analyzing real-world elections, in which ceteris paribus comparisons almost never occur. Second, and in further empirical support of this point, we show how this aggregation translates directly into a primary quantity of interest to election scholars: the effect of a change in an attribute on a candidate or party's expected vote share. These properties hold irrespective of the heterogeneity, strength, or interactivity of voters' preferences and regardless of how votes are aggregated into seats. Finally, we propose, formalize, and evaluate the feasibility of using conjoint data to estimate alternative quantities of interest to electoral studies, including the effect of an attribute on the probability of winning.
Keywords: conjoint, elections, causal inference, AMCE, survey experiments
JEL Classification: C25
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