Research

Publications

Buying, expropriating and stealing votes. Joint with Isabela Mares. Annual Review of Political Science 19.
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.

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

Under Review

The psychology of political risk in autocracy. 
Draft | Appendix | Abstract

Many authoritarian regimes wield the threat of repression to suppress dissent. Cognitive psychology predicts that the emotion of fear should affect how citizens perceive and process information about repression risk, and ultimately how they behave. I test the implications of this model of decision-making by studying how opposition supporters make participation decisions and how different types of citizens vary in their decision-making and outcomes. I test these predictions using an original lab-in-the-field experiment with 671 urban and rural opposition supporters in Zimbabwe. The experiment shows that fear reduces participation in dissent by between 14 and 77% on a range of measures, and that these effects may be mediated by increases in risk perceptions and risk aversion. Exploratory analysis of correlations in the dataset suggest that these effects may scale up into variation in real participation in dissent: a psychological propensity to feel fear in the face of a threat is a better predictor of political participation than other factors believed to drive dissent. These effects suggest that a model of decision-making that takes emotions into account can help us understand how repression is used to influence citizens and how its negative effects can be mitigated.

Mobilization under threat: An experimental test of opposition party strategies in a repressive regime.
Draft | Abstract

Although participation in opposition politics carries significant risks in many countries, large numbers of citizens consistently turn out to cast their votes for opposition parties. Why do citizens mobilize against threatening regimes despite the risk of high personal costs? In this study, I test whether appeals to opposition supporters’ emotions have an impact on their level of political participation. Through an experiment carried out by an opposition party in Zimbabwe, I test whether party messages that appeal to anger are more effective in mobilizing party members to engage in pro-opposition speech than purely enthusiastic appeals. I find that randomly assigned anger appeals with the same informational content increase action on average by 0.24 standard deviations. In real terms, this represents levels of activity in the anger groups that were higher than the control by between 37% and 187% across four different measures of participation. These effects are stronger with voters in higher-income areas. These results suggest that anger is an important factor in mobilizing political participation in repressive environments.

The core voter’s curse: Coercion and clientelism in Hungarian elections. Joint with Isabela Mares. Revision invited at Comparative Political Studies.
Draft | Abstract

In elections around the world, voters are influenced not only by offers of gifts and favors by the state but also by coercion. In this paper, we examine whether and how politicians use positive and negative individually-targeted inducements in rural Hungarian communities. We argue that in this setting, characterized by high ballot secrecy and entitlements that can be politicized, targeting is influenced by two factors. First, ballot secrecy causes parties to focus on influencing the turnout decisions of voters who are ideologically close to parties because their vote choices are easily predictable. Second, election-time targeting of positive and negative inducements is influenced by the context of pre-election benefits, particularly entitlements. Because core supporters are more likely to receive entitlements during the pre-election period, they are subsequently more likely to be targeted with negative inducements during the election campaign, specifically threats to be cut off from the economic benefits on which they rely. We test this theory using an original household survey of 1800 Hungarian citizens in 100 rural communities fielded shortly after the 2014 parliamentary election.

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.

Social Origins of Dictatorship: Elite social networks and political transitions in Haiti. Joint with Suresh Naidu and James A. Robinson.
Draft | 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.
Pre-Analysis Plan | Abstract

Why do civilians affected by violence support vigilante groups that often end up victimizing civilians? Theory from psychology suggests that the anger raised in the wake of violence may have a causal effect on individuals’ desire to punish perpetrators, even at the expense of the rule of law. We test the implications of this view using three observational and experimental studies with data from an original survey of nearly 1,200 individuals in Western Mexico, where many civilians have been exposed to narco violence and vigilante justice. We have three principal findings. First, the observational data shows that individuals who have historically been exposed to violence tend to be angrier and more supportive of punitive criminal justice policy and policy that enables vigilante groups to punish criminals. Second, both experiments show that citizens are angrier, are much more supportive of harsh punishments, and place less value on the legality of a punishment, for morally outrageous crimes. Third, the experimental results suggest that the innocence of a crime’s victim has a stronger effect on anger and moral outrage than the severity of the violence. These results shed light on how the emotional reactions of civilians in violence-affected communities may lead to cycles of retributive violence.

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 and the NYU Center for Experimental Social Science.
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 e ffects 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 eff ects of fear is a clear reduction in the probability that people will mobilize, the e ffect 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.