Gerber et al on three-group experiments (Political Anlaysis)

Abstract: Randomized experiments commonly compare subjects receiving a treatment to subjects receiving a placebo. An alternative design, frequently used in field experimentation, compares subjects assigned to an untreated baseline group to subjects assigned to a treatment group, adjusting statistically for the fact that some members of the treatment group may fail to receive the treatment. This article shows the potential advantages of a three-group design (baseline, placebo, and treatment). We present a maximum likelihood estimator of the treatment effect for this three-group design and illustrate its use with a field experiment that gauges the effect of prerecorded phone calls on voter turnout. The three-group design offers efficiency advantages over two-group designs while at the same time guarding against unanticipated placebo effects (which would undermine the placebo-treatment comparison) and unexpectedly low rates of compliance with the treatment assignment (which would undermine the baseline-treatment comparison).

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