Working Papers

Social Network Working Papers


Social Networks and the Political Salience of Ethnicity

Job Market Paper  R&R, Quarterly Journal of Political Science

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. 

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

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.