Anecdotal evidence suggests that some political leaders are more effective than others, causing better outcomes for their citizens. However, observed differences in outcomes between leaders could be attributable to chance variation. To solve this inferential problem, we develop RIFLE, a quantitative test of leader effects. RIFLE allows researchers to test a null hypothesis of no leader effect and also estimate the proportion of variation in an outcome variable attributable to leaders vs. other factors, and it provides more statistical power and more reliable inferences than other strategies. To demonstrate the substantive value of RIFLE, we implement it for world leaders, U.S. governors, and U.S. mayors and for several outcomes. RIFLE can be applied to virtually any setting with leaders and an objective outcome of interest, so its continued application should improve our understanding of where, when, and why leaders matter.
Christopher R. Berry is a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, academic director of the Center for Municipal Finance, and faculty director of the Master of Science Program in Computational Analysis and Public Policy. His research interests include metropolitan governance, the politics of public finance, and intergovernmental fiscal relations.