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Much Ado About Nothing: RDD and the Incumbency Advantage

  • Robert S. Erikson (a1) and Kelly Rader (a2)
Abstract

An influential paper by Caughey and Sekhon (2011a) suggests that the outcomes of very close US House elections in the postwar era may not be as-if random, thus calling into question this application of regression discontinuity for causal inference. We show that while incumbent party candidates are more likely to win close House elections, those who win are no different on observable characteristics from those who lose. Further, all differences in observable characteristics between barely winning Democrats and barely winning Republicans vanish conditional on which party is the incumbent. Any source of a special incumbent party advantage in close elections must be due to variables that cannot be observed. This finding supports the conclusion of Eggers et al. (2015) that Caughey and Sekhon’s discovery of lopsided wins by incumbents in close races is a mere statistical fluke.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
* Email: kelly.rader@yale.edu
Footnotes
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Authors’ note: The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. All replication materials are available at the Political Analysis Dataverse (Erikson and Rader 2016, doi:10.7910/DVN/567RS6).

Contributing Editor: Jonathan Katz

Footnotes
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Alan I. Barreca , Jason M. Lindo , and Glen R. Waddell . 2016. Heaping-induced bias in regression-discontinuity designs. Economic Inquiry 54:268293.

Devin M. Caughey , and Jasjeet S. Sekhon . 2011a. Elections and the regression discontinuity design: Lessons from close U.S. house races, 1942–2008. Political Analysis 19:385408.

Andrew Eggers , Olle Folke , Anthony Fowler , Jens Hainmueller , Andrew B. Hall , and James M. Snyder . 2015. 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):259274.

Robert S. Erikson , Olle Folke , and James M. Snyder . 2015. A gubernatorial helping hand? How governors affect presidential elections. Journal of Politics 77(2):491504.

Robert S. Erikson , and Rocío Titiunik . 2015. Using regression discontinuity to uncover the personal incumbency advantage. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10(1):101119.

Olle Folke , and James M. Snyder . 2012. Gubernatorial midterm slumps. American Journal of Political Science 56(4):931948.

David S. Lee 2008. Randomized experiments from non-random selection in U.S. house elections. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):675697.

Justin McCrary . 2008. Manipulation of the running variable in regression discontinuity design: A density test. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):698714.

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Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
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