Research

On Facilitators of Accountability

Friends Don’t Let Friends Free-Ride

With Dorothy Kronick.
Abstract

Theory predicts that social networks can facilitate or frustrate social sanctioning as a solution to the collective action problem, but empirical tests have been limited. We use data from the near-universe of cell-phone subscribers in Venezuela to measure each person’s network exposure, or how quickly others hear about her, which theory pinpoints as a driver of participation. We then find that participants in two collective political activities—a protest, and the signing of a petition—have higher network exposure than non-participants with similar observable characteristics. The magnitude of the difference is politically meaningful: subtle shifts in social networks could change the fortunes of the Venezuelan opposition. Together with qualitative data, we interpret these findings as evidence in favor of the idea that network structure mediates the ability of social sanctioning and social approbation to solve the collective action problem.

Social Networks and the Political Salience of Ethnicity
Forthcoming, Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Replication Code (Data Not Public)

Abstract
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 other potential cleavages that have not achieved political salience (namely religious identity and employment sector) are not correlated with network fragmentation, consistent with the idea ethnicity achieves salience because it offers an organizational advantage not offered by other cleavages. Finally, 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.
Under Review
Abstract

Citizens often mirror the behavior of their peers, but our understanding of the dynamics of this influence is limited. For example, in what settings does the choice of one person to vote cascade through a community and lead to high voter turnout? Despite substantial theoretical inroads into this question, direct empirical tests remain scarce. Using data on the social networks of 15 villages in rural Uganda, this paper develops theoretical predictions about expected cross-village variation in turnout based on the network structure of each village, and demonstrates that these predictions are tightly linked with actual turnout in low-salience local elections with limited media attention, though not in high-salience presidential elections. These results provide the first direct empirical validation of “social context” theory, and introduce a finding of importance for future empirical network research: the salience of social networks may be conditional on the information environment.

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.


Abstract

For years, studies of state formation in early and medieval Europe have argued that the modern, representative state emerged as the result of negotiations between autocratic governments in need of tax revenues and citizens who were only willing to consent to taxation in exchange for greater government accountability. This article presents evidence that similar dynamics shaped the formation of Somaliland’s democratic government. In particular, it shows that government dependency on local tax revenues – which resulted from its ineligibility for foreign assistance – provided those outside the government with the leverage needed to force the development of inclusive, representative and accountable political institutions.

On Manipulation of Mechanisms of Accountability

The Politics of Locating Polling Places: Race and Party in North Carolina Election Administration, 2008-2016

With Joshua Clinton, Adriane Fresh, and Michael Shepard.

Under Review

Abstract

Do local election administrators change precincts and polling place locations to target voters based on their partisanship or race? We systematically evaluate whether decisions consistent with targeting occur using a the universe of eligible voters, polling place locations and precinct boundaries across three presidential elections in the closely contested state of North Carolina. Overall, we find no evidence that local administrators allocate precincts and polling places in a manner consistent with partisan manipulation for electoral gain on average. Some counties initially appear to differentially target opposition party voters with these changes, but closer examination reveals that the county-level variation is likely due to random variation, not deliberate manipulation. There is also little evidence that the removal of minority voter protections in Shelby County v. Holder impacted polling place allocation. Based on the observed behavior, if partisan-motivated decisions occur they are seemingly more idiosyncratic than pervasive.

Polling Place Changes and Political Participation: Evidence from North Carolina Presidential Elections, 2008-2016

With Joshua Clinton, Adriane Fresh, and Michael Shepard.

Under Review

Abstract
How is turnout affected by the decisions of partisan appointed election administrators to move Election Day polling places in closely contested presidential elections? We study the behavior of more than 2 million eligible voters across three presidential elections (2008-2016) in the swing state of North Carolina. Leveraging within-voter variation in polling place location change over time, we demonstrate that polling place changes reduce Election Day voting statewide on average, but that this effect is almost completely offset by substitution into early voting. This result obtains whether polling place changes increase or decrease travel costs, and regardless of voter characteristics. Our findings highlighting the importance of early voting and voting primes for mitigating the non-travel costs of polling place changes in high-salience elections.

Who is my Neighbor? The Spatial Efficiency of Partisanship

With Jonathan Rodden.

Abstract

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 as opposed to an underlying inefficient distribution of Democrats in cities. We explain the problem of “spatial inefficiency” in partisan support, and introduce a new method for measuring this inefficiency, 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. This measure allows us to decompose the share of Republican advantage that is due to the spatial distribution of voters and the share that due to partisan gerrymandering. We demonstrate that as a result of urban-rural partisan polarization, much — though not all — of the overall Republican advantage can be explained by the spatial inefficiency of partisanship. We also demonstrate that Republican legislators are often able to improve significantly on their underlying geographic advantage when they control the redistricting process, while Democratic legislators are sometimes able to ameliorate it.

Political Dislocation: A Voter-Level Measure of Partisan Representation and Gerrymandering

With Jonathan Rodden. Political Dislocation Maps

Abstract

A fundamental motivation for geographic representation, especially by single-member districts, is the belief that there is value in voters who live in the same area being represented by a single politician. But for many voters, the reality falls far short of this ideal. In this paper, we present a local, voter-level measure of the degree to which an individual voter has fallen victim to this type of political dislocation. In particular, we examine the degree to which the partisan composition of a voter’s actual electoral district differs from the partisan composition of their geographic neighborhood. Where these measures differ dramatically — where, for example, a voter whose k nearest neighbors (where k is the number of people in the voter’s actual legislative district) are mostly Democrats, but despite this their district is mostly Republican — we term that voter politically dislocated. If we accept that geographic representation by single-member districts is desirable because we feel that politicians should represent geographic communities, and partisanship is an important part of the notion of geographic community, then political dislocation is a metric of intrinsic normative importance. Moreover, we show that political dislocation turns out to be a very good local measure of partisan gerrymandering.

Other Papers

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

Replication Materials

Abstract

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.

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

With Stephen Knack and F. Halsey Rogers

World Development, 2012

Abstract
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.

Non-Academic

“In Somaliland, less money has brought more democracy.”
The Guardian, September 2nd, 2011.

“Aid and Somaliland: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”
Baobab Africa Blog, The Economist, June 24th, 2011.

“Nicholas Eubank on Somaliland”
The Agenda Blog, The National Review, May 31, 2011.

“Somaliland: The Former British colony that shows Africa doesn’t need our millions to Flourish”The Daily Mail, July 23, 2011.