Networks and Accountability

Friends Don’t Let Friends Free-Ride
With Dorothy Kronick.
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
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2019
Replication Code (Data Not Public)
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.
R&R, Quarterly Journal of Political Science
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.
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.

Political Entrepreneurs and Electoral Realignments: Individual Agency in Politics Revisited
The current focus of political science on characterizing equilibria has at times come at the expense of understanding the drivers of political change. But political change is not only rela- tively frequent, it is also often driven by the capacity of lone individuals to affect deep changes in the central dimensions of political competition. This paper identifies numerous cases of electoral realignments induced by these individual political entrepreneurs in US states over the past 150 years. It does so using a novel empirical strategy with the potential for more general applications. Furthermore, the paper shows that while it may be impossible to fully explain the idiosyncratic timing of the appearance of individual entrepreneurs, as a population, there is evidence that entrepreneurs respond to institutional features that affect the ease of political entry. Using a difference-in-difference empirical strategy that takes advantage of variation in the introduction of primaries at the state level, this paper shows that the introduction of primaries in the United States has lead to an increase in the emergence of political entrepreneurs using both actual and instrumented primary implementation dates.

Non-Academic Publications

“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.