Comparative Causal Mediation and Relaxing the Assumption of No Mediator-Outcome Confounding: An Application to International Law and Audience Costs
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Comparative Causal Mediation and Relaxing the Assumption of No Mediator-Outcome Confounding: An Application to International Law and Audience Costs

Abstract

Experiments often include multiple treatments, with the primary goal to compare the causal effects of those treatments. This study focuses on comparing the causal anatomies of multiple treatments through the use of causal mediation analysis. It proposes a novel set of comparative causal mediation (CCM) estimands that compare the mediation effects of different treatments via a common mediator. Further, it derives the properties of a set of estimators for the CCM estimands and shows these estimators to be consistent (or conservative) under assumptions that do not require the absence of unobserved confounding of the mediator-outcome relationship, which is a strong and nonrefutable assumption that must typically be made for consistent estimation of individual causal mediation effects. To illustrate the method, the study presents an original application investigating whether and how the international legal status of a foreign policy commitment can increase the domestic political "audience costs" that democratic governments suffer for violating such a commitment. The results provide novel evidence that international legalization can enhance audience costs via multiple causal channels, including by amplifying the perceived immorality of violating the commitment.

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