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Does Publicizing a Tax Credit for Political Contributions Increase Its Use? Results From a Randomized Field Experiment
Last registered on March 20, 2016

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Does Publicizing a Tax Credit for Political Contributions Increase Its Use? Results From a Randomized Field Experiment
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001098
Initial registration date
March 20, 2016
Last updated
March 20, 2016 10:50 AM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Campaign Finance Institute
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Columbia University
PI Affiliation
Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2002-07-01
End date
2003-01-28
Secondary IDs
Abstract
We present the results of an experiment using nonpartisan, informational direct mail—of the sort that a public relations–conscious government agency might use—to encourage Ohio voters to contribute money to political candidates. Ohio provides full tax credits of up to $50 to citizens who make contributions to state candidates. We found that the mailing produced a modest and marginally significant increase in the number of citizens who filed for the tax credit. This is consistent with earlier survey research findings by two of the authors suggesting that increased knowledge of the tax credit would be likely to increase its use. The experiment suggests that nonpartisan direct mail campaigns might not be the most cost-effective means for encouraging increased contributions. However, even a modest increase in participation could have important effects, given the small size of the current donor pool.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Boatright, Robert, Donald Green and Michael Malbin. 2016. "Does Publicizing a Tax Credit for Political Contributions Increase Its Use? Results From a Randomized Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. March 20. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1098-1.0
Former Citation
Boatright, Robert, Donald Green and Michael Malbin. 2016. "Does Publicizing a Tax Credit for Political Contributions Increase Its Use? Results From a Randomized Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. March 20. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1098/history/7339
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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
During the 2002 election cycle, registered voters in treatment nine-digit zip codes received three mailings during the month before the election. The mailings described the credit and listed which elections had eligible candidates. In order to remain nonpartisan, they did not mention candidates’ names or explicitly ask for contributions. A fourth mailing was sent in January, at the beginning of the tax filing season, to remind filers to claim the credit.
Intervention Start Date
2002-10-03
Intervention End Date
2003-01-28
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
How many of the treatment and control groups file for the tax credit.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Following the filing of 2002 taxes, the Ohio Department of Taxation provided data on the number of tax filers in each of the sample nine-digit zip codes and how many of those took the election contribution tax credit for 2002 and 2000. This allows comparison of 2002 filings of the treatment to the control group, and also measurement of change within each group between 2000 and 2002. Individual-level outcome data was not provided to protect privacy.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The researchers obtained 11,000 nine-digit zip codes from the Ohio Department of Taxation and randomly allocated 1,000 to treatment and 10,000 to control. Of these, some zip-codes were found to have no registered voters thus reducing treatment group to 837 and control group to 9,072 zip-codes respectively. Treatment group received a series of mailings before and after the federal election cycle while the control group received nothing. The total number of voters who received the mailing was 3,392.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The Ohio Secretary of State's office gave CFI a list of all nine-digit zip codes along with the number of tax filers in each. All zip codes that had no filers were removed, and then a random number generator was used to select a treatment and control group. After completing the study, the treatment and control group were verified not to be significantly different according to average income or other demographic characteristics.
Randomization Unit
Nine-digit zip codes in Ohio.
Was the treatment clustered?
Yes
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
11,000 zip-code regions
Sample size: planned number of observations
9,909 zip-codes
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Treatment: 837 zip codes
Control: 9,072 zip codes
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
The approximate MDE is e^(.143*2.8) - 1 = 49% increase in zip code level counts. We find a 31% increase.
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
January 28, 2003, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
January 28, 2003, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
9,909 zip-codes
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
9,909 zip-codes
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Treatment: 837 zip codes Control: 9,072 zip codes
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Yes
Program Files
Program Files
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers
Abstract
DOES PUBLICIZING A TAX CREDIT FOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS INCREASE ITS USE? RESULTS FROM A RANDOMIZED FIELD EXPERIMENT

We present the results of an experiment using nonpartisan, informational direct mail—of the sort that a public relations–conscious government agency might use—to encourage Ohio voters to contribute money to political candidates. Ohio provides full tax credits of up to $50 to citizens who make contributions to state candidates. We found that the mailing produced a modest and marginally significant increase in the number of citizens who filed for the tax credit. This is consistent with earlier survey research findings by two of the authors suggesting that increased knowledge of the tax credit would be likely to increase its use. The experiment suggests that direct mail campaigns might not be the most cost-effective means for encouraging increased contributions. However, even a modest increase in participation could have important effects, given the small size of the current donor pool.
Citation
Robert G. Boatright, Donald P. Green, and Michael J. Malbin. 2006. "Does Publicizing a Tax Credit for Political Contributions Increase Its Use?: Results From a Randomized Field Experiment." American Politics Research 34(5): 563-582.