(2023). “Inclusive refugee-hosting can improve local development and prevent public backlash.” World Development 166, 106203.
Large arrivals of refugees raise concerns about potential tensions with host communities, particularly if refugees are viewed as an out-group competing for limited material resources and crowding out public services. To address these concerns, calls have increased to allocate humanitarian aid in ways that also benefit host communities. This study tests whether the increased presence of refugees, when coupled with humanitarian aid, improves public service delivery for host communities and dampens potential social conflict. We study this question in Uganda, one of the largest and most inclusive refugee-hosting countries. The data combines geospatial information on refugee settlements with original longitudinal data on primary and secondary schools, road density, health clinics, and health utilization. We report two key findings. First, even after the 2014 arrival of over 1 million South Sudanese refugees, host communities with greater refugee presence experienced substantial improvements in local development. Second, using public opinion data, we find no evidence that refugee presence has been associated with more negative (or positive) attitudes towards migrants or migration policy.
(2023). “Locked Down, Lashing Out: COVID-19 Effects on Asian Hate Crimes in Italy.” Journal of Politics, 2023, forthcoming.
COVID-19 caused a major health crisis and an economic crisis, conditions identified as conducive to stigmatization and hostility against minority groups. It is however unclear whether the threat of infection triggers hate crimes in addition to stigmatization and whether such a reaction can happen at the onset of an unexpected economic shock, before social hierarchies can be disrupted. Leveraging variation across Italian municipalities, we show that (i) hate crimes against Asians increased substantially at the pandemic onset and that (ii) the increase was concentrated in cities with higher expected unemployment but not higher excess mortality. We then examine individual, local, and national mobilization as potential mechanisms and find evidence suggesting that (iii) a xenophobic national discourse and local far-right institutions motivate hate crimes, while we find no strong support for the role of individual prejudice. Our study identifies new conditions triggering hateful behavior, advancing our understanding of factors hindering migrant integration.
(2023). “Oil discoveries and political windfalls: Evidence on presidential support in Uganda.” Political Science Research and Methods, 2023, forthcoming.
Oil discoveries, paired with delays in production, have created a new phenomenon: sustained postdiscovery, pre-production periods. While research on the resource curse has debated the effects of oil on governance and conflict, less is known about the political effects of oil discoveries absent production. Using comprehensive electoral data from Uganda and a difference-in-difference design with heterogeneous effects, we show that oil discoveries increased electoral support for the incumbent chief executive in localities proximate to discoveries, even prior to production. Moreover, the biggest effects occurred in localities that were historically most electorally competitive. Overall, we show that the political effects of oil discoveries vary subnationally depending on local political context and prior to production, with important implications for understanding the roots of the political and conflict curses.
(2023). “The Effect of Sustained Transparency on Electoral Accountability.”
American Journal of Political Science, 2023, forthcoming.
Transparency is expected to strengthen electoral accountability. Yet, initiatives disseminating politician performance information directly prior to elections have reported disappointing results. We argue that to be effective transparency needs to be sustained: the dissemination of politician performance information needs to occur early, regularly, and predictably throughout the term. Using a formal model of electoral accountability under non-programmatic and uneven party competition, we study how sustained transparency impacts a string of decisions by various actors in advance of elections: incumbents’ running choices, party nomination strategies, and potential challengers’ entry decisions. We show how these effects shape the candidate slate and ultimately electoral outcomes, conditional on incumbent performance and the incumbent party’s relative strength. We test our theory using a field experiment involving 354 subnational constituencies in Uganda, and find robust support to the idea that sustained transparency can improve electoral accountability even in weakly institutionalized electoral settings.
(2022). “How the Ultra-Rich Use Media Ownership as a Political Investment.” Journal of Politics 84(4): pp. 1913-1931.
Can the ultrarich shape electoral results by controlling media outlets that openly propagate their political interests? Whether consumers discount slanted media coverage is a question gaining urgency as a growing number of billionaires mix ownership of major media outlets with business interests and political agendas. We study this question in the context of Israel, where billionaire Sheldon Adelson launched in 2007 Israel Hayom, a right-leaning newspaper. Handed out for free, it soon became the most widely read newspaper nationally. Using local media exposure data since the launch, our analysis indicates that the newspaper exerted significant electoral influence, primarily benefiting Netanyahu and his Likud party. This shift helped bring about a sea change in the right’s dominance of national politics. The findings highlight the immense impact the ultrarich can exert in shaping politics through media ownership.
(2022). “Public Trust, Policing, and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from an Electoral Authoritarian Regime.” Social Science and Medicine, 2022, 305: 115045.
We examine how trust shapes compliance with public health restrictions during the COVID- 19 pandemic in Uganda. We use an endorsement experiment embedded in a mobile phone survey to show that messages from government officials generate more support for public health restrictions than messages from religious authorities, traditional leaders, or international NGOs. We further show that compliance with these restrictions is strongly positively correlated with trust in government, but only weakly correlated with trust in local authorities or other citizens. We use measures of trust from both before and during the pandemic to rule out the possibility that trust is a function of the pandemic itself. The relationship between trust and compliance is especially strong for the Ministry of Health and—more surprisingly—the police. We conclude that trust is crucial for encouraging compliance but note that it may be difficult to sustain, particularly in settings where governments and police forces have reputations for repression.
(2022). “Government Responsiveness in Developing Countries.” Annual Review of Political Science, 2022, 25: pp.131-153.
When and how do governments deliver public goods and services in response to citizen preferences? We review the current literature on government responsiveness, with a focus on public goods and service delivery in developing countries. We identify three types of actors that are commonly present in these accounts: politicians, bureaucrats, and citizens. Much of this literature examines interactions between dyads of these actors. The study of electoral accountability and constituency services emphasizes relationships between citizens (or voters) and politicians. Studies of bureaucratic incentives and political oversight of bureaucrats emphasize interactions between politicians and bureaucrats. Finally, studies of bureaucratic embeddedness and citizen oversight of bureaucrats elaborate the interactions between bureaucrats and citizens. We argue that an emerging literature that considers interactions between all three types of actors provides rich theoretical and empirical terrain for developing our understanding of responsiveness and accountability in low- and middle-income countries and beyond.
(2022). “Forced Displacement and Asylum Policy in the Developing World.” International Organization, 2022, 76(2): pp. 337-378.
Little theoretical or empirical work examines migration policy in the developing world. We develop and test a theory that distinguishes the drivers of policy reform and factors influencing the direction of reform. We introduce an original data set of de jure asylum and refugee policies covering more than ninety developing countries that are presently excluded from existing indices of migration policy. Examining descriptive trends in the data, we find that unlike in the global North, forced displacement policies in the global South have become more liberal over time. Empirically, we test the determinants of asylum policymaking, bolstering our quantitative results with qualitative evidence from interviews in Uganda. A number of key findings emerge. Intense, proximate civil wars are the primary impetus for asylum policy change in the global South. Liberalizing changes are made by regimes led by political elites whose ethnic kin confront discrimination or violence in neighboring countries. There is no generalizable evidence that developing countries liberalize asylum policy in exchange for economic assistance from Western actors. Distinct frameworks are needed to understand migration policymaking in developing versus developed countries.
(2022). “Who Registers? Village Networks, Household Dynamics, and Voter Registration in Rural Uganda.” Comparative Political Studies, 55(6): pp.899-932
(2021). “Community policing does not build citizen trust in police or reduce crime in the Global South.” Science, 2021, 374(6571): pp. 1046-1047.
Is it possible to reduce crime without exacerbating adversarial relationships between police and citizens? Community policing is a celebrated reform with that aim, which is now adopted on six continents. However, the evidence base is limited, studying reform components in isolation in a limited set of countries, and remaining largely silent on citizen-police trust. We designed six field experiments with Global South police agencies to study locally designed models of community policing using coordinated measures of crime and the attitudes and behaviors of citizens and police. In a preregistered meta-analysis, we found that these interventions led to mixed implementation, largely failed to improve citizen-police relations, and did not reduce crime. Societies may need to implement structural changes first for incremental police reforms such as community policing to succeed.
(2022). “Liberal Displacement Policies Attract Forced Migrants in the Global South.” American Political Science Review, 116(1), 351-358.
Most forced migrants around the world are displaced within the Global South. We study whether and how de jure policies on forced displacement affect where forced migrants flee in the developing world. Recent evidence from the Global North suggests migrants gravitate toward liberal policy environments. However, existing analyses expect de jure policies to have little effect in the developing world, given strong presumptions that policy enforcement is poor and policy knowledge is low. Using original data on de jure displacement policies for 92 developing countries and interviews with 126 refugees and policy makers, we document a robust association between liberal de jure policies and forced migrant flows. Gravitation toward liberal environments is conditional on factors that facilitate the diffusion of policy knowledge, such as transnational ethnic kin. Policies for free movement, services, and livelihoods are especially attractive. Utility-maximizing models of migrant decision making must take de jure policy provisions into account.
(2021). “The Americas: When Do Voters Support Power Grabs?” Journal of Democracy 32(2) 116–31.
This article examines the nature of democratic fragilities in the Americas through survey experiments in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Encouragingly, strong majorities of citizens recognize violations of democratic principles, laws, and norms. Moreover, how incumbents justify anti-democratic actions has little impact on how citizens view them.
Yet there are minorities, ranging from 10 to 35 percent of the population, who support efforts to erode democracy. And partisanship matters: Many individuals are seemingly “conditional democrats” who support anti-democratic actions if they voted for the incumbent. People are also reluctant to support impeachment for democratic violations, which creates an opening that would-be authoritarians can exploit.
(2022). “The Majoritarian Threat to Liberal Democracy.” Journal of Experimental Political Science, 9(1): pp.36-45.
Incumbents often seek to wield power in ways that are formally legal but informally proscribed. Why do voters endorse these power grabs? Prior literature focuses on polarization. We propose instead that many voters are majoritarian, in that they view popularly elected leaders’ actions as inherently democratic – even when those actions undermine liberal democracy. We find support for this claim in two original survey experiments, arguing that majoritarians’ desire to give wide latitude to elected officials is an important but understudied threat to liberal democracy in the United States.
This study integrates three related field experiments to learn about how information communications technology (ICT) innovations can affect who communicates with politicians. We implemented a nationwide experiment in Uganda following a smaller-scale framed field experiment that suggested that ICTs can lead to significant “flattening”: marginalized populations used short message service (SMS) based communication at relatively higher rates compared to existing political communication channels. We find no evidence for these effects in the national experiment. Instead, participation rates are extremely low, and marginalized populations engage at especially low rates. We examine possible reasons for these differences between the more controlled and the scaled-up experiments. The evidence suggests that even when citizens have issues they want to raise, technological fixes to communication deficits can be easily undercut by structural weaknesses in political systems.
(2020). Political partisanship influences behavioral responses to governors’ recommendations for COVID-19 prevention in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(39): pp. 24144-24153.
Voluntary physical distancing is essential for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Political partisanship may influence individuals’ responsiveness to recommendations from political leaders.
Daily mobility during March 2020 was measured using location information from a sample of mobile phones in 3,100 US counties across 49 states. Governors’ Twitter communications were used to determine the timing of messaging about COVID-19 prevention.
Regression analyses examined how political preferences influenced the association between governors’ COVID-19 communications and residents’ mobility patterns. Governors’ recommendations for residents to stay at home preceded stay-at-home orders and led to a significant reduction in mobility that was comparable to the effect of the orders themselves.
Effects were larger in Democratic than Republican-leaning counties, a pattern more pronounced under Republican governors. Democratic-leaning counties also responded more to recommendations from Republican than Democratic governors.
Political partisanship influences citizens’ decisions to voluntarily engage in physical distancing in response to communications by their governor.
(2019). It Takes a Village: Peer Effects and Externalities in Technology Adoption. American Journal of Political Science, 64(3), 536-553.
Do social networks matter for the adoption of new forms of political participation? We develop a formal model showing that the quality of communication that takes place in social networks is central to understanding whether a community will adopt forms of political participation where benefits are uncertain and where there are positive externalities associated with participation. Early adopters may exaggerate benefits, leading others to discount information about the technology’s value.
Thus, peer effects are likely to emerge only when informal institutions support truthful communication. We collect social network data for 16 Ugandan villages where an innovative mobile‐based reporting platform was introduced. Consistent with our model, we find variation across villages in the extent of peer effects on technology adoption, as well as evidence supporting additional observable implications. Impediments to social diffusion may help explain the varied uptake of new and increasingly common political communication technologies around the world.
(2021). Viral Voting: Social Networks and Political Participation. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 16(3): pp. 265-284.
Social context theory suggests that an important driver of political participation is the behavior of family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. How do social ties between individuals shape equilibrium behavior in larger populations? Despite theoretical inroads into this question, direct empirical tests remain scarce due to data limitations. We fill this gap using full social network data from 15 villages in rural Uganda, where village-level turnout is the outcome of interest. We find that levels of participation predicted by structural features of village networks are strongly associated with actual village-level turnout in low-salience local elections, and weakly associated in high-salience presidential elections. We also find that these features predict other forms of political participation, including attending village meetings and contributing to village projects. In addition to demonstrating that networks help explain political participation, we provide evidence that the mechanism of influence is that proposed by social context theory rather than alternative mechanisms like the presence of central brokers or the ability of networks to diffuse information.