Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Natural Experiments Based on Geography

  • Luke Keele and Rocío Titiunik

Abstract

Political scientists often attempt to exploit natural experiments to estimate causal effects. We explore how variation in geography can be exploited as a natural experiment and review several assumptions under which geographic natural experiments yield valid causal estimates. In particular, we focus on cases where a geographic or administrative boundary splits units into treated and control areas. The different identification assumptions we consider suggest testable implications, which we use to establish their plausibility. Our methods are illustrated with an original study of whether ballot initiatives increase turnout in Wisconsin and Ohio, which illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of causal inferences based on geographic natural experiments.

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All
*

Luke Keele is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, 211 Pond Lab, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802 (ljk20@psu.edu). Rocío Titiunik is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, P.O. Box 1248, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (titiunik@umich.edu). This paper was prepared for the conference Spatial Models of Politics in Europe and Beyond, Texas A&M University, 2012. The authors thank the editor Cameron Thies, two anonymous reviewers, Lisa Blaydes, Matias Cattaneo, Don Green, Justin Grimmer, Danny Hidalgo, Simon Jackman, Marc Meredith, Clayton Nall, Ellie Powell, Wendy Tam Cho, Jonathan Wand, Teppei Yamamoto, and seminar participants at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Yale University, Duke University, and Penn State University for comments and discussion. The authors also thank Mark Grebner for assistance with acquiring the Wisconsin Voter File. Titiunik gratefully acknowledges financial support from the National Science Foundation (SES 1357561). Parts of this manuscript were previously circulated in a working paper entitled “Geography as a Causal Variable.”

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Asiwaju, A.I. 1985. Partitioned Africa: Ethnic Relations an Africa’s International Boundaries, 1884--1984. London: C. Hurst.
Banerjee, Sudipto. 2005. ‘On Geodetic Distance Computations in Spatial Modeling’. Biometrics 61(2):617625.
Bayer, Patrick, Ferreira, Fernando, and McMillan, Robert. 2007. ‘A Unified Framework for Measuring Preferences for Schools and Neighborhoods’. Journal of Political Economy 115(4):588638.
Berger, Daniel. 2009. ‘Taxes, Institutions and Local Governance: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Colonial Nigeria’. Unpublished Manuscript. Colchester, UK: University of Essex.
Black, Sandra E. 1999. ‘Do Better Schools Matter? Parental Valuation of Elementary Education’. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(2):577599.
Brady, Henry E., and McNulty, John E.. 2011. ‘Turning Out To Vote: The Costs of Finding and Getting to the Polling Place’. American Political Science Review 105(1):115134.
Calonico, Sebastian, Cattaneo, Matias D., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2014a. ‘Robust Data-Driven Inference in the Regression-Discontinuity Design’. Stata Journal 14(4):909946.
Calonico, Sebastian, Cattaneo, Matias D., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2014b. ‘Robust Nonparametric Confidence Intervals for Regression-Discontinuity Designs’. Econometrica 82(6):22952326.
Calonico, Sebastian, Cattaneo, Matias D., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2015. ‘Rdrobust: An R Package for Robust Inference in the Regression-Discontinuity Design’. R Journal, Forthcoming.
Cattaneo, Matias D., Frandsen, Brigham R., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2015. ‘Randomization Inference in the Regression Riscontinuity Design: An Application to Party Advantages in the U.S. Senate’. Journal of Causal Inference 3:124.
Cox, David R. 1958. Planning of Experiments. New York: Wiley.
Daniel, Schlozman, and Yohai, Ian. 2008. ‘How Initiatives Don’t Always Make Citizens: Ballot Initiatives in the American States, 1978--2004’. Political Behavior 30(4):469489.
Everson, D. 1981. ‘The Effects of Initititiaves on Voter Turnout: A Comparative State Analysis’. Western Political Quarterly 34(3):415425.
Gerber, Alan S., Kessler, Daniel P., and Meredith, Marc. 2011. ‘The Persuasive Effects of Direct Mail: A Regression Discontinuity Based Approach’. Journal of Politics 73(1):140155.
Gerber, Elisabeth R., Lupia, Arthur, McCubbins, Mathew D., and Kiewiet, D. Roderick. 2001. Stealing the Initiative: How State Government Responds to Direct Democracy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Green, Donald P., and Gerber, Alan S.. 2002. ‘The Downstream Benefits of Experimentation’. Political Analysis 10(4):394402.
Hahn, Jinyong, Todd, Petra, and van der Klaauw, Wilbert. 2001. ‘Identification and Estimation of Treatments Effects with a Regression-Discontinuity Design’. Econometrica 69(1):201209.
Haspel, Moshe, and Gibbs Knotts, H.. 2005. ‘Location, Location, Location: Precinct Placement and the Costs of Voting’. Journal of Politics 67(2):560573.
Huber, Gregory A., and Arceneaux, Kevin. 2007. ‘Identifying the Persuasive Effects of Presidential Advertising’. American Journal of Political Science 51(4):957977.
Imbens, Guido W., and Kalyanaraman, Karthik. 2012. ‘Optimal Bandwidth Choice for the Regression Discontinuity Estimator’. Review of Economic Studies 79(3):933959.
Imbens, Guido W., and Lemieux, Thomas. 2008. ‘Regression Discontinuity Designs: A Guide to Practice’. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):615635.
Imbens, Guido W., and Zajonc, Tristan N.d. ‘Regression Discontinuity Design with Multiple Forcing Variables’. Working Paper. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Keele, Luke J., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2015. ‘Geographic Boundaries as Regression Discontinuities’. Political Analysis 23(1):127155.
Keele, Luke J., and Minozzi, William. 2012. ‘How Much is Minnesota Like Wisconsin? Assumptions and Counterfactuals in Causal Inference with Observational Data’. Political Analysis 21(2):193216.
Keele, Luke, Titiunik, Rocío, and Zubizarreta, José. 2014. ‘Enhancing a Geographic Regression Discontinuity Design Through Matching to Estimate the Effect of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout’. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A 178(1):223239.
Kern, Holger L., and Hainmueller, Jens. 2008. ‘Opium for the Masses: How Foreign Media Can Stabilize Authoritarian Regimes’. Political Analysis 17(2):377399.
Krasno, Jonathan S., and Green, Donald P.. 2008. ‘Do Televised Presidential Ads Increase Voter Turnout? Evidence from a Natural Experiment’. Journal of Politics 70(1):245261.
LaceyRobert, J. Robert, J. 2005. ‘The Electoral Allure of Direct Democracy: The Effect of Initiative Salience on Voting, 1990-96’. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 5(2):168181.
Laitin, David D. 1986. Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change Among the Yoruba. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Lavy, Victor. 2006. ‘From Forced Busing to Free Choice in Public Schools: Quasi-Experimental Evidence of Individual and General Effects.’ National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 11969, Boston.
Lavy, Victor. 2010. ‘Effects of Free Choice Among Public Schools’. The Review of Economic Studies 77(3):11641191.
Lee, David S. 2008. ‘Randomized Experiments From Non-Random Selection in U.S. House Elections’. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):675697.
Lee, David S., and Lemieux, Thomas. 2010. ‘Regression Discontiuity Designs in Economics’. Journal of Economic Literature 48(2):281355.
Lupia, Arthur, and Matsusaka, John G.. 2004. ‘Direct Democracy: New Approaches to Old Questions’. Annual Review of Political Science 7:463482.
Magleby, David B. 1984. Direct Legislation: Voting on Ballot Propositions in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Malpezzi, Stephen. 2002. ‘Hedonic Pricing Models and House Price Indexes: A Select Review’. In Kenneth Gibb and Anthony O’Sullivan (eds), Housing Economics and Public Policy: Essays in Honour of Duncan Maclennan, 6789. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Matsusaka, John G. 2004. For The Many Or The Few: The Initiative, Public Policy, and American Democracy. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Miguel, Edward. 2004. ‘Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya Versus Tanzania’. World Politics 56(3):327362.
Miles, William F.S. 1994. Hausaland Divided: Colonialism and Independence in Nigeria and Niger. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Miles, William F.S., and Rochefort, David. 1991. ‘Nationalism Versus Ethnic Identity in Sub-Saharan Africa’. American Political Science Review 85(2):393403.
Nall, Clayton. 2015. ‘The Political Consequences of Spatial Policies: How Interstate Highways Facilitated Geographic Polarization’. Journal of Politics, Forthcoming.
Papay, John P., Willett, John B., and Murnane, Richard J.. 2011. ‘Extending the Regression-Discontinuity Approach to Multiple Assignment Variables’. Journal of Econometrics 161(2):203207.
Porter, Jack. 2003. ‘Estimation in the Regression Discontinuity Model’. Unpublished Manuscript. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.
Posner, Daniel N. 2004. ‘The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi’. The American Political Science Review 98(4):529545.
Rubin, Donald B. 1986. ‘Which Ifs Have Causal Answers’. Journal of the American Statistical Association 81(396):961962.
Sekhon, Jasjeet S. 2009. ‘Opiates for the Matches: Matching Methods for Causal Inference’. Annual Review of Political Science 12:487508.
Sekhon, Jasjeet S., and Titiunik, Rocío. 2012. ‘When Natural Experiments are Neither Natural Nor Experiments’. American Political Science Review 106(1):3557.
Sheppard, Stephen. 1999. ‘Hedonic Analysis of Housing Markets’. In Paul Cheshire and Edwin S. Mills (eds), Applied Urban Economics, Volume 3 of Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Chapter 41, 15951635. Elsevier.
Smith, Daniel A., and Tolbert, Caroline J.. 2004. Educated By Initiative: The Effects of Direct Democracy On Citizens And Political Organizations In The American States. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Smith, Mark A. 2001. ‘The Contigent Effects of Ballot Initiatives and Candidate Races on Turnout’. American Journal of Political Science 45(3):700706.
Tolbert, Caroline J., and Smith, Daniel A.. 2005. ‘The Educative Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout’. American Politics Research 33(2):283309.
Tolbert, Caroline J., and Grummel, John A.. 2003. ‘White Voter Support for California’s Proposition 209: Revisiting the Racial Threat Hypothesis’. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 3(2):183202.
Tolbert, Caroline J., Grummel, John A., and Smith, Daniel A.. 2001. ‘The Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout In The American States’. American Politics Research 29(6):625648.
Tolbert, Caroline J., McNeal, R, and Smith, Daniel A.. 2003. ‘Enhancing Civic Engagement: The Effects of Direct Democracy on Political Participation and Knowledge’. State Politicsand Policy Quarterly 3(1):2341.
Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Keele and Titiunik Datasets
Datasets

 Unknown

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed