Book Project

Electioneering in Weak States: Accountability and the Long-Term Consequences of Political Competition

Existing research in African political economy suggests that elections can serve as an accountability mechanism even when they occur in the shadow of low state capacity and weak parties. My book project explores voters’ accountability demands in these environments by focusing on two important but understudied questions about electoral accountability: what do candidates in Africa actually say and do over the course of an election, and what do voters learn from the strategies they observe? While recent work has focused on one particular strategy—the giving of cash or gifts prior to an election, commonly referred as vote-buying—candidate strategies are complex, multi-dimensional objects about which we know surprisingly little. How often, for example, do candidates make promises of post-election provision, and what goods do they promise to provide? Are promises and gift-giving complements, or are they substitutes? How often do candidates fulfill their promises, and to whom? We also know relatively little about how voters respond to these strategies, or even how frequently they observe them. Do voters use the strategies they observe to make inferences about other political actors, or the value of electoral politics more generally? How informative are these strategies in the eyes of voters?

At stake in the answer to these questions is a deeper one about whether and to what extent elections promote accountability in weak states. The book project seeks to answer this question by observational and experimental data with a theoretical framework that emphasizes the role of state and party strength in determining what strategies are viable and what information they communicate to voters. I argue that, when both the state and parties are weak, elections produce accountability pressures that the state cannot relieve. This drives politicians to over-promise the public goods that citizens strongly desire and to over-provide expensive but economically inefficient private goods prior to the election. Citizens thus experience elections as a set of promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled and infer (correctly) that the provision of cash and gifts requires candidates to become personally indebted, increasing the likelihood of future corruption. This dynamic can be self-enforcing: pre-election private goods provision drives down candidate credibility, making programmatic promises less viable as an electoral strategy. To test my theoretical argument, I use a unique dataset comprised of over 13,000 candidate strategies as observed by over 9,000 voters across two countries. The dataset includes not only those strategies played by candidates during the pre-election period but also their post-election performance, as well as accompanying conjoint experiments designed to address identification concerns. A second dataset, which includes a matching conjoint experiment conducted with sitting MPs in both Uganda and Ghana, allows me to match voter beliefs to those of their corresponding representative. 

Published Work

Misunderstandings about the Regression Discontinuity Design in Close Elections with Kosuke Imai, Annual Review of Political Science (2016), 19:375–96

Recently, the regression discontinuity (RD) design has become increasingly popular among social scientists. One prominent application is the study of close elections. We explicate several methodological misunderstandings widespread across disciplines by revisiting the controversy concerning the validity of RD design when applied to close elections. Although many researchers invoke the local or as-if-random assumption near the threshold, it is more stringent than the required continuity assumption. We show that this seemingly subtle point determines the appropriateness of various statistical methods and changes our understanding of how sorting invalidates the design. When multiple-testing problems are also addressed, we find that evidence for sorting in US House elections is substantially weaker and highly dependent on estimation methods. Finally, we caution that despite the temptation to improve the external validity, the extrapolation of RD estimates away from the threshold sacrifices the design’s advantage in internal validity.

Is Language Destiny? The Origins and Consequences of Ethnolinguistic Diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa with Leonard Wantchekon, Palgrave Handbook of Economics and Language (2016), pp. 513-537

The strong, negative relationship between ethnolinguistic diversity and economic outcomes is one of the most robust findings in the empirical political economy literature, and many of its most important entries come from analysis of sub-Saharan Africa. In this chapter, we identify several distinct mechanisms by which ethnolinguistic diversity affects economic performance in Africa, including, among others, an increased likelihood of armed conflict, the underprovision of public goods, and political dysfunction and instability. We then provide a two-part explanation for why Africa in particular is home to such high levels of ethno-linguistic diversity. Drawing on work in anthropology, political science, economics and history, our explanation emphasizes Africa's unique role in early human evolution and the arbitrary borders of its modern states. We conclude by offering suggestions for fruitful future research and, through a discussion of the policy implications of existing work.

Working Papers

The following is placeholder text known as “lorem ipsum,” which is scrambled Latin used by designers to mimic real copy. Mauris id fermentum nulla. Fusce at massa nec sapien auctor gravida in in tellus. Mauris egestas at nibh nec finibus. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae. Phasellus sodales massa malesuada tellus fringilla, nec bibendum tellus blandit.

Vivamus sit amet semper lacus, in mollis libero. Maecenas non leo laoreet, condimentum lorem nec, vulputate massa. Aenean eu justo sed elit dignissim aliquam. Mauris id fermentum nulla. Nulla eu pretium massa. Quisque congue porttitor ullamcorper.

Enumerator Effects in Experimental Research: Inferential Consequences of Enumerator Effects in Survey and Lab-in-the-Field Experiments with Lucy Martin

What Do Poor Voters Learn from Poor Performance? Estimating Information Effects with a Two-Stage Conjoint Design Dissertation Chapter

Causal Inference in the Forced Choice Conjoint with Naoki Egami and Kosuke Imai

Promising the Moon: Why Politicians Make Promises They Can’t Keep Dissertation Chapter

Existing research in clientelism has paid special attention to the provision of cash and gifts before elections. Yet candidate strategies also frequently include promises of to provide public goods after the election, even in states where resource and capacity constraints make such provision unlikely. What do candidates promise, and how often are those promises fulfilled? This paper uses a combination of survey and experimental data in Ghana to evaluate the causes and consequences of making promises in a low-credibility environment. First, I show that promises of ex post provision are by far the most common strategy observed by voters, surpassing in their frequency all other remaining strategies, including vote buying and the provision of quasi-public goods such as scholarships. I then demonstrate that promise-making produces anchoring effects among voters, as voters price the expectation of future provision into their evaluations of candidates, even when those promises are unlikely to be fulfilled. Voters punish politicians more heavily for poor public goods provision when it was previously promised. At the same time, voters reward public goods provision less when it was promised during the campaign. This raises a puzzle: given that over-promising creates such strong anchoring effects, why do politicians continue to do it? I argue that the prevalence of over-promising is due to a time-inconsistency problem facing candidates during the campaign period. Using a conjoint experiment, I demonstrate that politicians are unlikely to suffer electoral costs for over-promising, and in some cases can actually benefit from doing so. This dynamic gives candidates few incentives to reign in their promise-making during the pre-election period, particularly when the financial returns to holding office are very large. 

Ongoing Work