Do Congressional Candidates Have Reverse Coattails? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design

Do Congressional Candidates Have Reverse Coattails? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design

Political Analysis. August
2009, Vol. 17, Issue 4, Pages 418-434

Although the presidential coattail effect has been an object of frequent study, the question of whether popular congressional candidates boost vote shares in return for their parties’ presidential candidates remains unexplored. This article investigates whether so-called “reverse coattails” exist using a regression discontinuity design with congressional district-level data from presidential elections between 1952 and 2004. Taking incumbency to be near-randomly distributed in cases where congressional candidates have just won or lost their previous elections, I find that the numerous substantial advantages of congressional incumbency have no effect on presidential returns for these incumbents’ parties. This null finding underscores my claim that the existing coattail literature deserves greater scrutiny. My results also prompt a rethinking of the nature of the advantages that incumbents bring to their campaigns and may help deepen our understanding of partisanship in the United States.