Research

Publications

The psychology of state repression: Fear and dissent decisions in Zimbabwe. Forthcoming, American Political Science Review
Article | Appendix | Replication Data | Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Many authoritarian regimes use frightening acts of repression to suppress dissent. Theory from psychology suggests that emotions should affect how citizens perceive and process information about repression risk and ultimately whether or not they dissent. I test the effects of emotions on dissent in autocracy by running a lab-in-the-field experiment with 671 opposition supporters in Zimbabwe that randomly assigns some participants to an exercise that induces a mild state of fear, whereas others complete a neutral placebo. The fear treatment significantly reduces hypothetical and behavioral measures of dissent by substantively large amounts. It also increases pessimism about parameters that enter into the dissent decision as well as risk aversion. These results show that emotions interact in important ways with strategic considerations. Fear may be a powerful component of how unpopular autocrats exclude large portions of their populations from mobilizing for regime change.

Fear and citizen coordination against dictatorship. Joint with Abraham Aldama and Mateo Vasquez. Forthcoming, Journal of Theoretical Politics
Abstract

Despite numerous studies showing that emotions influence political decision making, there is scant literature giving a formal treatment to this phenomenon. This paper formalizes insights about how fear influences participation in risky collective action such as citizen revolt against an autocratic regime. To do so we build a global game and analyze the effects that fear may have on participation through increasing pessimism about the regime’s strength, increasing pessimism about the participation of others in the revolution, and increasing risk aversion. We find that although the impact of the first two eff ects of fear is a clear reduction in the probability that people will mobilize, the eff ect that an increase in risk aversion may have is that under some circumstances fear is empowering and increases the probability with which citizens will mobilize. We conclude with a discussion of the conditions in which fear is likely to have such counter-intuitive mobilizing effects.

The core voter’s curse: Clientelistic threats and promises in Hungarian elections. 2018. Joint with Isabela Mares. Comparative Political Studies 51(11), pp. 1441-1471.
Article | Appendix | Abstract

In elections around the world, voters are influenced not only by positive offers of gifts and favors, but also by the threat of negative sanctions for their individual electoral choices. Pre-electoral entitlements such as jobs, assets, and welfare create expectations of future access that brokers can use as powerful negative inducements at the moment of the vote. We argue that in conditions where ballot secrecy makes it difficult to monitor vote choices, brokers are likely to target core supporters with both pre-electoral entitlements and election-time threats. We refer to this counterintuitive logic as the “core voters’ curse.” We find evidence for this argument using an original household survey of 1,860 Hungarian citizens in 93 rural communities fielded shortly after the 2014 parliamentary election.

Cooperation, Information, and Keeping the Peace: Civilian Engagement with Peacekeepers in Haiti. 2017. Joint with Grant Gordon. Journal of Peace Research 54(1): 64-79.
Article | Appendix | Replication Data | Abstract

Cultivating cooperation with local populations is crucial to peacekeeping effectiveness. Peacekeepers must generate cooperation in order to solicit information about local political actors, social networks and violence in order to overcome the asymmetries of operating in foreign and unfamiliar theaters. Under what conditions do local populations decide to cooperate with peacekeepers? How does exposure to peacekeeping security, relief, or abuse — three of the primary ways that local communities experience peacekeepers — affect the likelihood that local populations will provide information to peacekeepers? Using an original survey of a random sample of residents living in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, Haiti, we show that exposure to security and relief activities improves public opinion and is associated with substantial increases in the willingness to cooperate with peacekeepers whereas exposure to peacekeeping abuse dramatically undermines civilian attitudes and cooperation. Interestingly, while the impact of abuse is larger than that of security and relief activities in explaining beliefs, the impact of security and relief activities outweigh the effect of abuse in explaining cooperative behavior. These findings present an opportunity and challenge for peacekeepers: if public opinion and cooperation are strongly responsive to peacekeeper programming and policy, then peacekeepers must deliver services and prevent abuse in order to solicit the cooperation that they need to achieve their mandates.

Buying, expropriating and stealing votes. 2016. Joint with Isabela Mares. Annual Review of Political Science 19, pp. 267-288.
Article | Abstract

In elections around the world, large numbers of voters are influenced by promises or threats that are contingent on how they vote. Recently, the political science literature has made considerable progress in disaggregating clientelism along two dimensions: first, in recognizing the diversity of actors working as brokers, and second, in conceptualizing and disaggregating types of clientelism based on positive and negative inducements of different forms. In this review, we discuss recent findings explaining variation in the mix of clientelistic strategies across countries, regions, and individuals and identify a few areas for future progress, particularly in explaining variation in targeting of inducements by politicians on different types of voters.

Under Review

Mobilization under threat: An experimental test of opposition party strategies in a repressive regime.
Draft | Appendix | Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Although participation in opposition politics carries significant risks for many citizens, large numbers consistently turn out to support opposition parties. Why do citizens mobilize against threatening regimes despite the risk of high personal costs? Through an experiment carried out by an opposition party in Zimbabwe, test whether campaign appeals to opposition supporters’ emotions affect their level of political participation in pro-opposition discussion groups. I find that across two different issues, randomly assigned anger appeals increase action on average by 0.38 standard deviations more than enthusiasm appeals with the same informational content. In real terms, this represents between 32% and 174% more participation in the groups assigned to the anger appeals across four different measures of participation. The effects may be strongest in areas with past repression. These results suggest that anger can be an important force for mobilizing political participation in repressive environments.

Social Origins of Dictatorship: Elite social networks and political transitions in Haiti. Joint with Suresh Naidu and James A. Robinson. Revision invited, American Political Science Review.
Draft | Appendix | Abstract

Existing theories of coups against democracy emphasize that elite incentives to mount a coup depend on the threat that democracy represents to them and what they stand to gain from dictatorship. But holding interests constant, some potential plotters, by the nature of their social networks, have much more influence over whether or not a coup succeeds. We develop a model of elite social networks and show that coup participation of an elite is increasing in their network centrality and results in rents during a dictatorship. We empirically explore the model using an original dataset of Haitian elite social networks which we linked to firm-level data on importing firms. We show that highly central families are more likely to participate in the 1991 coup against the democratic Aristide government. We then find that the retail prices of the staple goods imported by coup participators differentially increase during subsequent periods of non-democracy. Finally, we find that urban children born during periods of non-democracy are more likely to experience adverse health outcomes.

Anger and support for vigilante justice in Mexico’s drug war. Joint with Omar Garcia-Ponce and Thomas Zeitzoff.
Article | Appendix | Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Why do civilians affected by violence support vigilante groups? We argue that outrage after violence increases the demand for punitiveness, even at the expense of the rule of law. We test our theory using three observational and experimental studies using data from an original survey of 1,200 individuals in Western Mexico, a region affected by narcotrafficking and vigilante violence. We find first that individuals exposed to more violence are angrier and more supportive of punitive criminal justice, including policies that enable vigilantes. Second, both experiments show that citizens are more supportive of harsh punishments, and place less value on their legality, for morally outrageous crimes. Third, the innocence of a crime’s victim has a stronger effect on anger and punitiveness than the severity of its violence. The findings suggest that emotional reactions to violence can lead to cycles of retribution that undermine the rule of law.

Who dissents? Self efficacy and opposition action after state-sponsored election violence.
Draft | Appendix | Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Reactions to acts of state-sponsored election violence vary greatly across individuals and over time. This article develops a theory that the psychological characteristic of self efficacy moderates citizens’ reactions to state-sponsored election violence. I use data from an original survey and in-depth qualitative interviews with opposition supporters in Zimbabwe to illustrate and test this hypothesis. I find that self-efficacy is a strong predictor of intention to take action in support of the opposition after violence and is related to the emotional reactions that citizens have after violent events. Opposition supporters who are higher in self efficacy are also particularly likely to take action after more severe violent events. Self efficacy is a better predictor of reactions to repression than other prominent explanations in the literature including strength of party identification.

Working Papers

Preying on the poor: The impact of repressive violence on citizen behavior.
Draft | Abstract

State repression, or the threat of violence by the state, is used in many countries by unpopular regimes to force citizens to act against their preferences. It is often assumed that repression is effective in shaping citizen behavior; however, there is enormous heterogeneity in how citizens respond both across countries and across individuals. I argue that repression is most effective against the poor, and that this effect is driven by both psychological and physical vulnerability. I test my theory using data from the case of Zimbabwe and two empirical strategies at the constituency and individual level that draw on random variation in economic scarcity and exposure to repressive violence. My results show that repression is more effective in shaping the behavior of citizens living in a state of economic scarcity. This suggests a new channel by which underdevelopment may be linked to authoritarian, non-responsive institutions.

Ongoing Projects

Fear of violence, productivity and economic disparities. Joint with Christopher Blattman, Johannes Haushofer, and Pietro Ortoleva.
Funded by the Columbia Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia President’s Global Innovation Fund, and the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.
Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Safety is unequally distributed in the world, and fear is a pervasive presence in the lives of the poor. This includes fear of crime and fear of the police. This project tests whether fear has real economic costs through a hidden channel: cognitive load. We build on recent work spanning psychology and economics that shows that living in a state of “scarcity” – whether due to a scarcity of time or financial resources – causes a mental load that ultimately leads people to make decisions that undermine their efforts to escape poverty. This project extends that work both by looking at a new form of scarcity, scarcity of security, and by testing how the cognitive load of fear reduces productivity on tasks from different segments of the labor market.

Fear and coordination. Joint with Abraham Aldama and Mateo Vasquez.
Funded by the Columbia Experimental Laboratory in the Social Sciences, the NYU Center for Experimental Social Science, and the International Federation for Experimental Economics.
Abstract

Despite numerous studies showing that emotions influence political decision making, there is scant literature giving a formal treatment this phenomenon. This paper is a step in providing a formal account of how emotions influence politics. In particular, we analyze the role of fear in the decision to join a protest against a repressive regime. To do so we build a global game and analyze the effects that fear may have through increasing pessimism about the regime’s strength, increasing pessimism about the participation of others in the protest, and increasing risk aversion. We fi nd that although the impact of the fi rst two effects of fear is a clear reduction in the probability that people will mobilize, the effect that an increase in risk aversion may have is that under some circumstances fear is empowering and increases the probability with which citizens will mobilize. These results may help explain why repression is empirically linked to both increases and decreases in protest.