Social Network Working Papers

Social Networks and the Political Salience of Ethnicity

Job Market Paper  Under Review

Ethnic politics scholars are increasingly convinced that (a) the political salience of ethnicity and (b) the correlation between ethno-linguistic fractionalization (ELF) and poor development are driven by the dense social networks shared by co-ethnics. By this argument, social networks allow ethnic parties to leverage inbuilt networks to share information and support collective action, while ethnically fragmented communities struggle to hold politicians accountable. This paper provides the first comprehensive empirical test of the assumption underlying this argument. Using seven months of telecommunications data from 9 million mobile subscribers in Zambia — which includes records of almost 2 billion calls and SMS messages — to measure social networks across an entire country, this paper finds that electoral constituencies with high ELF also have more fragmented social networks, especially in rural areas. It also finds that both voter knowledge and public goods are negatively correlated with network fragmentation, consistent with the network-proxy hypothesis.

Social Networks and Turnout in Low Salience Elections: Evidence from Uganda

with Guy Grossman, Melina Platas, and Jonathan Rodden. Draft available upon request

The tendency for citizens to mirror the behavior of their peers is well-documented, but our understanding of the dynamics of this influence is more limited. In what settings, for example, does the choice of one person to vote cascades through a community leading to high voter turnout? Using data on the full social networks of 15 villages in rural Uganda, this paper examine the relationship between the structure of social networks and voter turnout. We find that villages with networks that support these “cascades” in simulations also have higher turnout. Further, we find that this relationship is much stronger in the low-salience Local Council (LC5) election – where a lack of mass media coverage means individuals must rely on their social networks to learn about the likelihood others will vote – than in the higher-salience presidential election. These results provide the first direct empirical validation of the “social context” theory long suggested by scholars like Fowler (2005); Siegel (2009); Rolfe (2012).

Other Working Papers

Who is my Neighbor? The Spatial Efficiency of Partisanship

with Jonathan Rodden. Draft available upon request

Relative to its overall statewide support, the Republican Party has been over-represented in Congressional delegations and state legislatures over the last decade in a number of U.S. states. A challenge for courts is to determine the extent to which this can be explained by intentional gerrymandering vis-a-vis an underlying inefficient distribution of Democrats in cities. We explain the problem of “spatial inefficiency” in partisan support, and measure it by borrowing from the field of plant ecology, assessing the partisanship of the nearest neighbors of each voter in each U.S. state at the spatial scales relevant for Congressional delegations and both chambers of state legislatures. We demonstrate that as a result of urban-rural partisan polarization, much of the overall Republican advantage can be explained by the spatial inefficiency of partisanship. Moreover, this provides us with a useful baseline against which to evaluate claims of partisan gerrymandering. We demonstrate that when Republicans are often able to improve significantly on their underlying geographic advantage when they control the redistricting process, while Democrats are sometimes able to ameliorate it.

Decomposing the Government-Private School Performance Differential: Village Ethnic Politics and School Sorting

Working Paper
Replication Materials

This paper leverages variation in sorting on academic potential caused by village caste politics to determine if private schools in rural Punjab, Pakistan out perform government schools because (a) private schools provide students with a better education, or (b) students attending private schools are more academically inclined in unobservable ways. It concludes that even the most sophisticated observational techniques — lagged Value-Added models — overstate private school quality by at least half.

Published Papers

Embrace Your Fallibility: Thoughts on Code Integrity

The Political Methodologist, June 2016
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A followup to Lessons from a Decade of Replications at the QJPS, this paper argues coding errors  in published papers are not due to carelessness or inattention on behalf of authors, but rather the fact humans are effectively incapable of writing error-free code. It argues as a discipline we must start learning and teaching coding skills that help maximize the probability our mistakes will be found and corrected. It presents an overview of specific programming practices we can all implement, and offers  reflections on the implications of this idea for third-party review of code by academic journals.

Lessons from a Decade of Replications at the Quarterly Journal of Political Science

PS: Political Science and Politics, April 2016
Based on post for The Political Methodologist awarded Most Viewed Post of 2015

This paper details the experience and lessons learned at the Quarterly Journal of Political Science since it began requiring authors to provide this type of replication code in 2005. It finds 14 or 24 replication packages reviewed (58 percent) had results in the paper that differed from those generated by the author’s own code.

Taxation, Political Accountability, and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Somaliland

Journal of Development Studies, 2012
Winner of the Dudley Seers Prize for Best Article Published in JDS in 2012.

This paper presents evidence that negotiations between an autocratic government in need of tax revenues and citizens who were only willing to consent to taxation in exchange for greater government accountability shaped the formation of Somaliland’s democratic government.

Aid Quality and Donor Rankings (with Stephen Knack and F. Halsey Rogers)

World Development, 2012

This paper offers new measures of aid quality covering 38 bilateral and multilateral donors, as well as new insights about the robustness and usefulness of such measures.