Popular Enough

Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2020

To Repress or to Co‐opt? Authoritarian Control in the Age of Digital Surveillance
Xu Xu
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


This article studies the consequences of digital surveillance in dictatorships. I first develop an informational theory of repression and co‐optation. I argue that digital surveillance resolves dictators' information problem of not knowing individual citizens' true anti‐regime sentiments. By identifying radical opponents, digital surveillance enables dictators to substitute targeted repression for nonexclusive co‐optation to forestall coordinated uprisings. My theory implies that as digital surveillance technologies advance, we should observe a rise in targeted repression and a decline in universal redistribution. Using a difference‐in‐differences design that exploits temporal variation in digital surveillance systems among Chinese counties, I find that surveillance increases local governments' public security expenditure and arrests of political activists but decreases public goods provision. My theory and evidence suggest that improvements in governments' information make citizens worse off in dictatorships.

A Glimpse of Freedom: Allied Occupation and Political Resistance in East Germany
Luis Martinez, Jonas Jessen & Guo Xu
University of Chicago Working Paper, April 2020


This paper studies costly political resistance in a non-democracy. When Nazi Germany surrendered in May 1945, 40% of the designated Soviet occupation zone was initially captured by the western Allied Expeditionary Force. This occupation was short-lived: Soviet forces took over after less than two months and installed an authoritarian regime in what became the German Democratic Republic (GDR). We exploit the idiosyncratic line of contact separating Allied and Soviet troops within the GDR to show that areas briefly under Allied occupation had higher incidence of protests during the only major episode of political unrest in the GDR before its demise in 1989 - the East German Uprising of 1953. These areas also exhibited lower regime support during the last free elections in 1946. We argue that even a “glimpse of freedom” can foster civilian opposition to dictatorship.

Credit and Social Unrest: Evidence from 1930s China
Fabio Braggion, Alberto Manconi & Haikun Zhu
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


Do credit contractions trigger social unrest? To answer this question, we turn to a natural experiment from 1930s China, where the 1933 U.S. Silver Purchase program acts as a shock to bank lending. We assemble a hand-collected data set of loan contracts between banks and firms, labor unrest episodes, and underground Communist Party penetration. The Silver Purchase shock results in a severe credit contraction, and firms borrowing from banks with a larger exposure to it experience increased labor unrest and Communist Party penetration among their workers. These findings contribute to understanding the socio-political consequences of credit shocks.

Pandemics and Political Development: The Electoral Legacy of the Black Death in Germany
Daniel Gingerich & Jan Vogler
University of Virginia Working Paper, May 2020


Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? We address this question by examining the consequences of the most deadly pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347-1351). Our claim is that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if they impose sufficient loss of life so as to augment the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor repressive regimes (such as serfdom) become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. We test our theory by tracing out the local consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. We find that areas hit hardest by the pandemic were more likely to: (1) adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns; (2) exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics.

Cell Phone Access and Election Fraud: Evidence from a Spatial Regression Discontinuity Design in Afghanistan
Robert Gonzalez
University of South Carolina Working Paper, March 2020


This paper examines the impact of cell phone access on election fraud in the context of the 2009 Afghan presidential election. I combine cell phone coverage maps with unique data on the location of polling centers to accurately pinpoint which centers were exposed to coverage during the election. Results from a spatial regression discontinuity design along the two-dimensional coverage boundary provide considerable evidence that access to cell phones deters corrupt behavior. Polling centers just inside coverage areas report a drop in the share of fraudulent votes of about 4 percentage points while the likelihood of a fraudulent station goes down by about 8 percentage points. Analyses of the effect of coverage on citizen participation in election monitoring, election-related insurgent violence, and the tribal composition of villages suggest that the observed declines in fraud are likely attributed to cell phone access strengthening social monitoring capacity. From a policy perspective, these results illustrate how a widespread technology, namely cell phones, can exert a positive externality on institutional development via corruption deterrence.

Candidate Elimination in Competitive Autocracies
Shichao Ma
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, January 2020, Pages 105-139


I build a citizen-candidate model in which one candidate, the incumbent, can selectively eliminate other citizen-candidates. I apply it to study candidate elimination in competitive autocracies. I find that the incumbent either eliminates all competitive challengers to win the election, removes a smaller subset of challengers to select a preferable successor, or organizes a free and fair election and loses power. In a free and fair election, the median voter result does not hold. For a large range of parameters, the successor selected by the incumbent can be more moderate than any candidate that would emerge from a free and fair election. Consequently, compared to a free and fair election, the median voter may be better off in a rigged election.

Politician hate speech and domestic terrorism
James Piazza
International Interactions, forthcoming


Does hate speech – rhetoric that targets, vilifies or is intended to intimidate minorities and other groups in society – fuel domestic terrorism? This question is, unfortunately, relevant given the convergence of the use of hate speech by political figures and domestic terrorist incidents in a variety of countries, including the United States. In this study I theorize that hate speech by politicians deepens political polarization and that this, in turn, produces conditions under which domestic terrorism increases. I test this proposition using terrorism and hate speech data for 135 to 163 countries for the period 2000 to 2017. I produce two findings. First, hate speech by political figures boosts domestic terrorism. Second, the impact of political hate speech on domestic terrorism is mediated through increased political polarization.

The Price of Collaboration: How Authoritarian States Retain Control
Barbara Maria Piotrowska
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


How does access to foreign or independent media affect the operation of a state security apparatus? This article answers this question concentrating on two characteristics of the informant network of the East German Stasi: the number of informants and their “price.” Exposure to West German TV (WGTV) had the potential to decrease the supply of informants and increase the demand for them, pushing up the value of the payments the informants received, but leaving their quantity theoretically ambiguous. I verify this reasoning using a rare original data set of Stasi informants. Results show that informants were given approximately 70 East German marks worth of rewards more per year in the areas that had access to WGTV, as compared with areas with no reception — ironically an amount roughly equivalent to the cost of an annual East German TV subscription. These findings demonstrate how an authoritarian state can counteract the potentially destabilizing effect of foreign media.

Illiberal Norm Diffusion: How Do Governments Learn to Restrict Nongovernmental Organizations?
Marlies Glasius, Jelmer Schalk & Meta De Lange
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Recent decades have witnessed a global cascade of restrictive and repressive measures against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). We theorize that state learning from observing the regional environment, rather than NGO growth per se or domestic unrest, explains this rapid diffusion of restrictions. We develop and test two hypotheses: (1) states adopt NGO restrictions in response to nonarmed bottom-up threats in their regional environment (“learning from threats”); (2) states adopt NGO restrictions through imitation of the legislative behavior of other states in their regional environment (“learning from examples”). Using an original dataset on NGO restrictions in ninety-six countries over a period of twenty-five years (1992–2016), we test these hypotheses by means of negative binomial regression and survival analyses, using spatially weighted techniques. We find very limited evidence for learning from threats, but consistent evidence for learning from examples. We corroborate this finding through close textual comparison of laws adopted in the Middle East and Africa, showing legal provisions being taken over almost verbatim from one law into another. In our conclusion, we spell out the implications for the quality of democracy and for theories of transition to a postliberal order, as well as for policy-makers, lawyers, and civil-society practitioners.

Riots and resources: How food access affects collective violence
Alison Heslin
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


How does food access affect the mobilization of collective violence? The upsurge in rioting in 2008 drew broad attention to the relationship of food and conflict, as scholars and policymakers sought to understand the mobilization and variation of rioting events. Studies have shown a robust relationship between conflict and food prices, noting an increase in incidents of violent conflict during times of high global prices. This study furthers the theory on the role of food access in riot mobilization, investigating the mechanisms by which changes in food access translate into collective violence. Using detailed, first-hand accounts of rioting in 2007 and 2008, this study investigates the motives and grievances of the community members where riots occurred and the relationship of those grievances to food access, while contrasting these accounts to communities that did not engage in rioting. In the cases presented, a change in food access motivated protest and violence involving existing grievances rather than explicitly addressing food access. In this way, food changed the meaning and severity of existing grievances. The cases studied add to our understanding of concurrent upsurges in food riots by outlining the ways that food access interacts with local contexts to initiate violent conflict, stressing the presence of existing actors who use decreased food access to mobilize resources to address existing grievances. While media accounts highlighted food access as the primary concern of food rioters, this study argues that many ‘food riots’ were not, in fact, directly motivated by food access. Rather, changes to food access can aid in mobilizing protests around a range of grievances, some unrelated to food access. Efforts to address the causes of food-related instability will be unsuccessful if they focus solely on food access without addressing the primary motivating grievance and understanding how food access relates to that grievance.

Disaggregating “China, Inc.”: The Hierarchical Politics of WTO Entry
Yeling Tan
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


How does state structure affect responses to globalization? This article examines why some parts of the Chinese state enacted more liberalizing policies than others in response to World Trade Organization (WTO) entry. It shows that, despite single-party rule, China’s WTO-era policy trajectories were neither top-down nor monolithic. Instead, central and subnational governments diverged in their policy responses. The study identifies three competing economic strategies from which these responses are drawn: market-replacing (directive), market-shaping (developmental), and market-enhancing (regulatory). The analysis uses an original dataset of Chinese industry regulations from 1978 to 2014 and employs machine learning methods in text analysis to identify words associated with each strategy. Combining tariff, industry, and textual data, the article demonstrates that the divergent strategies adopted by central and subnational governments are driven by each unit’s differential accountability to the WTO and by the diversity of that unit’s industrial base.

State Disengagement: Evidence from Former French West Africa
Richard McAlexander & Joan Ricart-Huguet
Columbia University Working Paper, April 2020


How do states respond to political resistance? The standard repression or concession logic presumes that the state is strong enough to punish or co-opt dissent effectively. Instead, we argue that the state may disengage when it is weak. We show that colonial governments in former French West Africa reduced public investments in districts where chiefs engaged in (typically nonviolent) disobedience. However, we also show that chieftain disobedience reduced taxes and fees on Africans, rather than increased them in retaliation. Because the state was too weak to punish via higher taxes or to concede via higher investments, the state disengaged instead in districts that were difficult to rule. Our findings show that chieftain resistance helps explain why subnational development was so unequal during colonialism. Low-level and non-violent resistance, too often overlooked in the conflict literature, also affects state-society relations and state formation.

Explaining Population Displacement Strategies in Civil Wars: A Cross-National Analysis
Adam Lichtenheld
International Organization, Spring 2020, Pages 253-294


Why do combatants uproot civilians in wartime? In this paper I identify cross-national variation in three population-displacement strategies—cleansing, depopulation, and forced relocation—and test different explanations for their use by state actors. I advance a new “assortative” theory to explain forced relocation, the most common type. I argue that combatants displace not only to expel undesirable populations, but also to identify the undesirables in the first place by forcing people to send signals of loyalty and affiliation based on whether, and to where, they flee. This makes communities more “legible” and facilitates the extraction of rents and recruits. I test these arguments using a novel Strategic Displacement in Civil Conflict data set (1945–2008). Consistent with my expectations, different displacement strategies occur in different contexts and appear to follow different logics. Cleansing is more likely in conventional wars, where territorial conquest takes primacy, while forced relocation is more likely in irregular wars, where identification problems are most acute. The evidence indicates that cleansing follows a logic of punishment. The results for relocation, however, are consistent with the implications of my assortative logic: it is more likely to be employed by resource-constrained incumbents fighting insurgencies in “illegible” areas — rural, peripheral territories. A case study from Uganda based on in-depth fieldwork provides evidence for the assortative mechanism. As the most comprehensive analysis of wartime displacement strategies to date, this paper challenges some core assumptions about a devastating form of contemporary political violence.



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