|Individualized text messages about public services fail to sway voters: Evidence from a field experiment on Ugandan elections (with Mark Buntaine, Daniel Nielson and Paula Pickering). Forthcoming, Journal of Experimental Political Science.||Mobile communication technologies can provide citizens access to information that is tailored to their specific circumstances. Such technologies may therefore increase citizens’ ability to vote in line with their interests and hold politicians accountable. In a large-scale randomized controlled trial in Uganda (n=16,083), we investigated whether citizens who receive private, timely and individualized text messages by mobile phone about public services in their community punished or rewarded incumbents in local elections in line with the information. The majority of respondents claimed to find the messages valuable and there is evidence that they briefly updated their beliefs based on the messages; however, the treatment did not cause increased votes for incumbents where public services were better than expected nor decreased votes where public services were worse than anticipated. The considerable knowledge gaps among citizens identified in this study indicate potential for communication technologies to effectively share civic information. Yet the findings imply that when the attribution of public service outcomes is difficult, even individualized information is unlikely to affect voting behavior.|
|How Information about Foreign Aid Affects Public Spending Decisions: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Malawi (with Johan Ahlback and Brigitte Seim). Journal of Development Economics (Sept 2020).||Does foreign aid shift public spending? Many worry that aid will be “fungible” in the sense that governments reallocate public funds in response to aid. If so, this could undermine development, increase the poorest’s dependency on donors, and free resources for patronage. Yet, there is little agreement about the scale or consequences of such effects. We conducted an experiment with 460 elected politicians in Malawi. We provided information about foreign aid projects in local schools to these politicians. Afterwards, politicians made real decisions about which schools to target with development goods. Politicians who received the aid information treatment were 18% less likely to target schools with existing aid. These effects increase to 22-29% when the information was plausibly novel. We find little evidence that aid information heightens targeting of political supporters or family members, or dampens support to the neediest. Instead, the evidence indicates politicians allocate the development goods in line with equity concerns.|
|SMS Texts on Corruption Help Ugandan Voters Hold Elected Councillors Accountable at the Polls (with Mark Buntaine, Daniel Nielson and Paula Pickering). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (April 2018). Open access.||Many politicians manipulate information to prevent voters from holding them accountable; however, mobile text messages may make it easier for non-governmental organizations to credibly share information on official corruption that is difficult for politicians to counter directly. We test the potential for texts on budget management to improve democratic accountability by conducting a large (n=16,083) randomized controlled trial during the 2016 Ugandan district elections. In cooperation with a local partner, we compiled, simplified, and text-messaged official information on irregularities in local government budgets. Verified recipients of messages that described more irregularities than expected reported voting for incumbent councillors 6 percent less often; verified recipients of messages conveying fewer irregularities than expected reported voting for incumbent councillors 5 percent more often. The messages had no observable effect on votes for incumbent council chairs, potentially due to voters’ greater reliance on other sources of information for higher-profile elections. These mixed results suggest that text messages on budget corruption help voters hold some politicians accountable in settings where elections are not free and fair.
LSE News Release
|Voter information campaigns and political accountability: Cumulative findings from a preregistered meta-analysis of coordinated trials (with Thad Dunning, Guy Grossman, Macartan Humphreys, Susan D. Hyde, Craig McIntosh, Gareth Nellis, Claire L. Adida, Eric Arias, Clara Bicalho, Taylor C. Boas, Mark T. Buntaine, Simon Chauchard, Anirvan Chowdhury, Jessica Gottlieb, F. Daniel Hidalgo, Marcus Holmlund, Eric Kramon, Horacio Larreguy, Malte Lierl, John Marshall, Gwyneth McClendon, Marcus A. Melo, Daniel L. Nielson, Paula M. Pickering, Melina R. Platas, Pablo Querubín, Pia Raffler and Neelanjan Sircar). Science Advances (July 2019). Open access.||Voters may be unable to hold politicians to account if they lack basic information about their representatives’ performance. Civil society groups and international donors therefore advocate using voter information campaigns to improve democratic accountability. Yet, are these campaigns effective? Limited replication, measurement heterogeneity, and publication biases may undermine the reliability of published research. We implemented a new approach to cumulative learning, coordinating the design of seven randomized controlled trials to be fielded in six countries by independent research teams. Uncommon for multisite trials in the social sciences, we jointly preregistered a meta-analysis of results in advance of seeing the data. We find no evidence overall that typical, nonpartisan voter information campaigns shape voter behavior, although exploratory and subgroup analyses suggest conditions under which informational campaigns could be more effective. Such null estimated effects are too seldom published, yet they can be critical for scientific progress and cumulative, policy-relevant learning.|
|The Tortuga Disease: The Perverse Effects of Illicit Foreign Capital (with Steven Oliver and Justin Hastings). 61.2 (June 2017) International Studies Quarterly.||Transnational crime brings substantial foreign capital into a number of fragile and developing states. Yet the economic and political impacts of such capital have rarely been studied, due to the challenges of obtaining accurate data on illicit activities. We overcome this challenge by compiling a dataset on the amount and disbursement dates of ransom payments made by ship owners and insurers to Somali pirates from 2005 to 2012, along with sub-national commodity prices and trade flows in Somalia. Using a difference-in-differences strategy, we find that ransoms have effects similar to those associated with the Dutch Disease. These effects include appreciating the local currency, decreasing export competitiveness, and increasing import dependence. Our results illuminate a new and distinct channel through which illicit capital can undermine long-term economic development and foster an economic and political dependency on illicit sectors.
Captain Phillips and the Causes of Piracy on LSE Africa Blog
|Surviving Elections: Election Violence, Incumbent Victory and Post-Election Repercussions (with Emilie Hafner-Burton and Susan Hyde). British Journal of Political Science (April 2018).||It is often assumed that government-sponsored election violence increases the probability that incumbent leaders remain in power. Using cross-national data, this article shows that election violence increases the probability of incumbent victory, but can generate risky post-election dynamics. These differences in the consequences of election violence reflect changes in the strategic setting over the course of the election cycle. In the pre-election period, anti-incumbent collective action tends to be focused on the election itself, either through voter mobilization or opposition-organized election boycotts. In the post-election period, by contrast, when a favorable electoral outcome is no longer a possibility, anti-government collective action more often takes the form of mass political protest, which in turn can lead to costly repercussions for incumbent leaders.|
|Did Aid Promote Democracy in Africa? The Role of Technical Assistance in Africa’s Transitions (with Clark Gibson and Barak Hoffman). World Development 68 (April 2015).||Did foreign aid impede or catalyze democratization in Africa in the 1990s? We argue that after the Cold War, donors increased their use of technical assistance in aid packages, improving their monitoring capacity and thus reducing autocrats’ ability to use aid for patronage. To remain in power, autocrats responded by conceding political rights to their opponents—from legalizing opposition parties to staging elections. We test our theory with panel data for all sub-Saharan African countries. While other factors played pivotal roles in Africa’s political liberalization, we find technical assistance helps to explain the timing and extent of Africa’s democratization.|
|How Aid Target Votes: The Effect of Electoral Strategies on the Distribution of Foreign Aid. World Politics 66.2 (April 2014):293-330.||Despite allegations that foreign aid promotes corruption and patronage, little is known about how recipient governments’ electoral incentives influence aid spending. This article proposes a distributional politics model of aid spending in which governments use their informational advantages over donors in order to allocate a disproportionate share of aid to electorally strategic supporters, allowing governments to translate aid into votes. To evaluate this argument, the author codes data on the spatial distribution of multilateral donor projects in Kenya from 1992 to 2010 and shows that Kenyan governments have consistently influenced the aid allocation process in favor of copartisan and coethnic voters, a bias that holds for each of Kenya’s last three regimes. He confirms that aid distribution increases incumbent vote share. This evidence suggests that electoral motivations play a significant role in aid allocation and that distributional politics may help explain the gap between donor intentions and outcomes.|
|When Do Governments Resort to Election Violence? (with Emilie Hafner-Burton and Susan Hyde). British Journal of Political Science 44.1 (Jan. 2014): 149-179.||When are governments most likely to use election violence, and what factors can mitigate government incentives to resort to violence? How do the dynamics of election violence differ in the pre- and post-election periods? The central argument of this article is that an incumbent’s fear of losing power as the result of an election, as well as institutionalized constraints on the incumbent’s decision-making powers, are pivotal in her decision to use election violence. While it may seem obvious to suggest that incumbents use election violence in an effort to fend off threats to their power, it is not obvious how to gauge these threats. Thus, a central objective of this article is to identify sources of information about the incumbent’s popularity that can help predict the likelihood of election violence. The observable implications of this argument are tested using newly available cross-national evidence on elections, government use of pre- and post-election violence, and post-election protests from 1981 to 2004.
What Makes Some Elections Violent, Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post
|The Political Economy of Plunder: Economic Opportunity and Modern Piracy (with Steven Oliver). Journal of Conflict Resolution 57.4 (Aug. 2013): 682-708.||Maritime piracy is a growing scourge on the international community—imposing large costs on maritime states and the shipping industry, as well as potentially undermining state capacity and funding terrorism. Using original data on over 3,000 pirate attacks, the authors argue that these attacks are, in part, a response to poor labor market opportunities. To establish this, the authors take advantage of the strong effect of commodity prices on labor market opportunities in piracy-prone states. Consistent with this theory, the authors show that changes in the price of labor- and capital-intensive commodities have consistent and strong effects on the number of pirate attacks in a country’s territorial waters each month. The authors confirm these results by instrumenting for commodity prices using monthly precipitation levels.|
Chapters and Reviews
|“Budgets, SMS Texts, and Votes in Uganda” In Information, Accountability, and Cumulative Learning: Lessons from Metaketa. Cambridge University Press, 2019 (with Mark Buntaine, Sarah Bush, Dan Nielson and Paula Pickering). Open Access Version Pre-Analysis Plan Replication Files|
|Review of Democratic Trajectories in Africa: Unravelling the Impact of Foreign Aid ed. Danielle Resnick and Nicolas van de Walle, in Journal of Modern African Studies. 52.2 (June 2014)|
Blogs and Press