Much Ado About Nothing: RDD and the Incumbency Advantage


Robert Erikson and Kelly Rader

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Erikson, Robert and Rader, Kelly (2017). Much Ado About Nothing: RDD and the Incumbency Advantage. Political Analysis, Published online: 25 April 2017. DOI:10.1017/pan.2017.1.
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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