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Political scientists are often interested in estimating causal effects. Identification of causal estimates with observational data invariably requires strong untestable assumptions. Here, we outline a number of the assumptions used in the extant empirical literature. We argue that these assumptions require careful evaluation within the context of specific applications. To that end, we present an empirical case study on the effect of Election Day Registration (EDR) on turnout. We show how different identification assumptions lead to different answers, and that many of the standard assumptions used are implausible. Specifically, we show that EDR likely had negligible effects in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. We conclude with an argument for stronger research designs.
Authors' note: We thank Michael Hanmer and Devin Caughey for generously sharing code and data. For comments and suggestions, we thank Mike Alvarez, Curt Signorino, Shigeo Hirano, Robert Erikson, Mike Ting, Walter Mebane, Michael Hanmer, Betsy Sinclair, Jonathan Nagler, Don Green, Rocío Titiunik, and seminar participants at Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Rochester. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society of Political Methodology, Iowa City, IA, and APSA 2010. Replication files and information can be found in Keele (2012).
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