We discuss the two most popular frameworks for identification, estimation and inference in regression discontinuity (RD) designs: the continuity-based framework, where the conditional expectations of the potential outcomes are assumed to be continuous functions of the score at the cutoff, and the local randomization framework, where the treatment assignment is assumed to be as good as randomized in a neighborhood around the cutoff. Using various examples, we show that (i) assuming random assignment of the RD running variable in a neighborhood of the cutoff implies neither that the potential outcomes and the treatment are statistically independent, nor that the potential outcomes are unrelated to the running variable in this neighborhood; and (ii) assuming local independence between the potential outcomes and the treatment does not imply the exclusion restriction that the score affects the outcomes only through the treatment indicator. Our discussion highlights key distinctions between “locally randomized” RD designs and real experiments, including that statistical independence and random assignment are conceptually different in RD contexts, and that the RD treatment assignment rule places no restrictions on how the score and potential outcomes are related. Our findings imply that the methods for RD estimation, inference, and falsification used in practice will necessarily be different (both in formal properties and in interpretation) according to which of the two frameworks is invoked.
We are indebted to Matias Cattaneo, Anthony Fowler, Kellie Ottoboni, Nicolás Idrobo Rincón, Kosuke Imai, Joshua Kalla, Fredrik Sȁvje, Yotam Shem-Tov, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and discussion. Sekhon gratefully acknowledges support from the Office of Naval Research (N00014-15-1-2367) and Titiunik gratefully acknowledges financial support from the National Science Foundation (SES 1357561).
Sekhon, J.S. and Titiunik, R. (2017), "On Interpreting the Regression Discontinuity Design as a Local Experiment", Regression Discontinuity Designs (Advances in Econometrics, Vol. 38), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-28. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0731-905320170000038001
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