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When Can We Trust Population Thresholds in Regression Discontinuity Designs?


  • Florian Ade
  • Ronny Freier


A recent literature has used variation just around deterministic legislative population thresholds to identify the causal effects of institutional changes. This paper reviews the use of regression discontinuity designs using such population thresholds. Our concern involves three arguments: (1) simultaneous exogenous (co-)treatment, (2) simultaneous endogenous choices and (3) manipulation and precise control over population measures. Revisiting the study by Egger and Koethenbuerger (2010), who analyse the relationship between council size and government spending, we present new evidence that these three concerns do matter for causal analysis. Our results suggest that empirical designs using population thresholds are only to be used with utmost care and confidence in the precise institutional setting.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Ade & Ronny Freier, 2011. "When Can We Trust Population Thresholds in Regression Discontinuity Designs?," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1136, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwwpp:dp1136

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gilligan, Thomas W. & Matsusaka, John G., 2001. "Fiscal Policy, Legislature Size, and Political Parties: Evidence from State and Local Governments in the First Half of the 20th Century," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 1), pages 57-82, March.
    2. Timothy Besley, 2004. "Joseph Schumpeter Lecture: Paying Politicians: Theory and Evidence," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(2-3), pages 193-215, 04/05.
    3. Reza Baqir, 2002. "Districting and Government Overspending," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(6), pages 1318-1354, December.
    4. Randall Holcombe & Lawrence Kenny, 2008. "Does restricting choice in referenda enable governments to spend more?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 136(1), pages 87-101, July.
    5. Stephan Litschig & Kevin Morrison, 2010. "Government spending and re-election: Quasi-experimental evidence from Brazilian municipalities," Economics Working Papers 1233, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jun 2012.
    6. Pettersson-Lidbom, Per, 2012. "Does the size of the legislature affect the size of government? Evidence from two natural experiments," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 269-278.
    7. Ferraz, Claudio & Finan, Frederico S., 2008. "Motivating Politicians: The Impacts of Monetary Incentives on Quality and Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 3411, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Björn Tyrefors Hinnerich & Per Pettersson‐Lidbom, 2014. "Democracy, Redistribution, and Political Participation: Evidence From Sweden 1919–1938," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 82(3), pages 961-993, May.
    9. Gilligan, Thomas W. & Matsusaka, John G., 2001. "Fiscal Policy, Legislature Size, and Political Parties: Evidence From State and Local Governments in the First Half of the 20th Century," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(1), pages 57-82, March.
    10. Lee, David S., 2008. "Randomized experiments from non-random selection in U.S. House elections," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 675-697, February.
    11. Stefano Gagliarducci & Tommaso Nannicini, 2013. "Do Better Paid Politicians Perform Better? Disentangling Incentives From Selection," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 369-398, April.
    12. Messner, Matthias & Polborn, Mattias K., 2004. "Paying politicians," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2423-2445, December.
      • Matthias Messner & Mattias Polborn, 2003. "Paying Politicians," Working Papers 246, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    13. Peter Egger & Marko Koethenbuerger, 2010. "Government Spending and Legislative Organization: Quasi-experimental Evidence from Germany," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 200-212, October.
    14. McCrary, Justin, 2008. "Manipulation of the running variable in the regression discontinuity design: A density test," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 698-714, February.
    15. Schaltegger, Christoph A. & Feld, Lars P., 2009. "Do large cabinets favor large governments? Evidence on the fiscal commons problem for Swiss Cantons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(1-2), pages 35-47, February.
    16. Romer, Thomas & Rosenthal, Howard & Munley, Vincent G., 1992. "Economic incentives and political institutions: Spending and voting in school budget referenda," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 1-33, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Baskaran, Thushyanthan & Lopes da Fonseca, Mariana, 2016. "Electoral competition and endogenous political institutions: Quasi-experimental evidence from Germany," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 43-61.
    2. Kantorowicz, Jarosław, 2017. "Electoral systems and fiscal policy outcomes: Evidence from Poland," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 36-60.
    3. Saarimaa, Tuukka & Tukiainen, Janne, 2012. "Politics in coalition formation of local governments," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 58528, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Garmann, Sebastian, 2015. "Elected or appointed? How the nomination scheme of the city manager influences the effects of government fragmentation," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 26-42.
    5. Felix Arnold & Ronny Freier, 2015. "Signature requirements and citizen initiatives: Quasi-experimental evidence from Germany," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 162(1), pages 43-56, January.
    6. repec:eee:regeco:v:65:y:2017:i:c:p:38-55 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:kap:pubcho:v:173:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11127-017-0484-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:eee:pubeco:v:154:y:2017:i:c:p:49-66 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Regression discontinuity design; population thresholds; local elections; government spending;

    JEL classification:

    • C2 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations

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