Making a Difference: The Consequences of Electoral Experiments

Tara Slough

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    While experiments on elections represent a popular tool in social science, the possibility that experimental interventions could affect who wins office remains a central ethical concern. I formally characterize electoral experimental designs to derive an upper bound on aggregate electoral impact under different assumptions about interference. I then introduce a decision rule based on comparison of this bound to predicted election outcomes to determine whether an experiment should be implemented. Researchers can mitigate the possibility of affecting aggregate outcomes by reducing the saturation of treatment or focusing experiments in districts and electoral systems where treated voters are less likely to be pivotal. These conditions identify novel trade-offs between adhering to ethical commitments and the statistical power and external validity of electoral experiments. More broadly, this paper shows that the formalization of an ethical objective facilitates a closer mapping between ethical considerations and experimental design than is currently practiced.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    JournalPolitical Analysis
    StateAccepted/In press - 2024


    • elections
    • ethics
    • field experiments

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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