Potemkin Villages

Kevin Lewis

February 17, 2021

Shoring Up Autocracy: Participatory Technologies and Regime Support in Putin’s Russia
Hannah Chapman
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


How do autocrats build support? This study argues that autocrats create and maintain participatory technologies -- elite-mass communication strategies that promote two-way interaction between citizens and leaders -- to foster support. Participatory technologies provide citizens with the opportunity to have a limited voice in otherwise closed political systems. I test this theory through a series of two nationally-representative survey experiments in Russia. Results suggest that awareness of participatory technologies increases approval of President Putin and improves perceptions that there are opportunities for voice in politics. This finding departs from previous research that suggests public opinion is influenced primarily by participation. Furthermore, I demonstrate that these effects can be directly attributed to the communicative format of these strategies, not to issue resolution or leadership effects. Finally, I demonstrate that effects are dependent upon individuals’ political sophistication and political priors, contributing to political polarization and opening up the potential for backlash against the regime.

The Promise and Pitfalls of Conflict Prediction: Evidence from Colombia and Indonesia
Samuel Bazzi et al.
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming


How feasible is violence early-warning prediction? Columbia and Indonesia have unusually fine-grained data. We assemble two decades of local violent events alongside hundreds of annual risk factors. We attempt to predict violence one year ahead with a range of machine learning techniques. Our models reliably identify persistent, high-violence hot spots. Violence is not simply autoregressive, as detailed histories of disaggregated violence perform best, but socioeconomic data substitute well for these histories. Even with unusually rich data, however, our models poorly predict new outbreaks or escalations of violence. These “best case” scenarios with annual data fall short of workable early-warning systems.

A Theory of Power Structure and Institutional Compatibility: China vs. Europe Revisited
Ruixue Jia, Gérard Roland & Yang Xie
NBER Working Paper, January 2021


Despite a large consensus among economists on the strong interdependence and synergy between pro-development institutions, how should one understand why Imperial China, with weaker rule of law and property rights, gave the commoners more opportunities to access elite status than Premodern Europe, for example via the civil service exam and the absence of hereditary titles? Supported by rich historical narratives, we show that these institutional differences reflect more general differences in the power structure of society: (1) the Ruler enjoyed weaker absolute power in Europe; (2) the People were more on par with the Elites in China in terms of power and rights. Based on these narratives, we build a game-theoretical model and analyze how the power structure can shape the stability of an autocratic rule. If we read greater absolute power of the Ruler as conditioning more of the power and rights of the ruled on the Ruler's will, we show that a more symmetric Elite–People relationship can stabilize autocratic rule. If absolute power is stronger, this stabilizing effect will be stronger, and the Ruler's incentive to promote such symmetry will be greater. The theory explains the power structure differences between Imperial China and Premodern Europe, as well as specific institutions such as the bureaucracy in China and the role of cities in Europe. It is also consistent with the observation that autocratic rule was more stable in Imperial China than in Premodern Europe.

Does Free-Market Reform Induce Protest? Selection, Post-Treatment Bias, and Depoliticization
Marcus Kurtz & Adam Lauretig
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Across myriad literatures, it is widely held that expanding economic grievances induce violence, protest, or other forms of backlash. In Latin America, where economic liberalization deepened the downturn of the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s (and 1990s), reform has been tightly associated with protest and mobilization. At the same time, liberal economic reforms have proven to be remarkably durable, even where long-promised benefits are hard to discern. This article makes the case that economically liberal reforms, despite inducing or deepening severe and sustained economic downturns, have actually undermined political protest. Previous work confirming the conventional wisdom foundered on two main methodological problems. First, selection into economic reform was a consequence of the very economic pain and macroeconomic imbalances it also served to induce. Secondly, because of this, these key (macro)economic characteristics are both pre- and post-treatment. Utilizing a marginal structural model approach to assess the impact of economic liberalization on protest outcomes net of this selection process, and the prior history of treatment, the study finds that painful reform reduces political protest even as it heightens grievances. This depoliticizing dynamic helps to explain the surprising durability of liberal reforms in Latin America.

Explaining Divergent Trends in Coups and Mutinies: The End of the Cold War and the Role of Military Agency
Maggie Dwyer & Oisín Tansey
Security Studies, February 2021, Pages 864-893


Coups and mutinies have often been treated as broadly equivalent types of behavior. However, they are distinct forms of indiscipline carried out by different sets of actors and have fundamentally distinct goals. This article makes two contributions to the scholarship on both coups and mutinies. First, we offer the first systematic attempt to compare their rates and illustrate the difference in their frequency over time, drawing on data from West and Central Africa. In particular, we identify a striking divergence in the frequency of coups and mutinies over time as well as a set of fluctuations that coincide with the end of the Cold War. Second, we build a new theory to explain these divergent trends. We focus on the role of agency within the military and argue that the upheavals associated with the end of the Cold War were experienced in different ways by junior and senior ranks within armed forces. This, in turn, helps account for variation in the coup and mutiny attempts.

Unpopular Protest: Mass Mobilization and Attitudes to Democracy in Post-Mubarak Egypt
Neil Ketchley & Thoraya El-Rayyes
Journal of Politics, January 2021, Pages 291-305


Political science has long debated the significance of protest during a democratic transition, but attention has been largely confined to its impact on elite support for democracy. Contributing to scholarship on the attitudinal consequences of mobilization, we examine how protest shaped popular perceptions of democracy during the post-Mubarak transition in Egypt. We do this by matching wave 2 of the Arab Barometer survey with georeferenced protest events reported in Arabic-language newspapers. Our results show that Egyptians came to hold less favorable attitudes to democracy following sustained protest in their district. We find that this relationship was principally driven by longer-lasting, static street protests that targeted public space. Qualitative case details illustrate how such tactics could disrupt everyday life and affect livelihoods. These findings highlight one way in which popular support for democracy can be eroded during a transition.

External threat environments and individual bias against female leaders
Nam Kyu Kim & Alice Kang
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


We argue that a country's international security context influences individual bias against female leaders and propose three mechanisms: by increasing individual demand for defense, by shaping individual ideological orientations, and by increasing society's level of militarization. Using survey data of more than 200,000 individuals in 84 countries, we show the more hostile the country's security environment, the more individuals are likely to agree that men make better political leaders than do women. We also find support for some of our proposed mechanisms and that the effect of security environments is greater for men than women. Our study presents the first cross-national evidence that the country's international security environment correlates with bias against women leaders.

History’s Masters: The Effect of European Monarchs on State Performance
Sebastian Ottinger & Nico Voigtländer
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


We create a novel reign-level dataset for European monarchs, covering all major European states between the 10th and 18th centuries. We first document a strong positive relationship between rulers’ intellectual capabilities and state-level outcomes. To address endogeneity issues, we exploit the facts that i) rulers were appointed according to primogeniture, independent of their ability, and ii) the wide-spread inbreeding among the ruling dynasties of Europe led to quasi-random variation in ruler ability. We code the degree of blood relationship between the parents of rulers. The ‘coefficient of inbreeding’ is a strong predictor of ruler ability, and the corresponding instrumental variable results imply that ruler ability had a sizeable bearing on the performance of states and their borders. This supports the view that ‘leaders made history,’ shaping the European map until its consolidation into nation states in the 19th century. We also show that rulers mattered only where their power was largely unconstrained. In reigns where parliaments checked the power of monarchs, ruler ability no longer affected their state’s performance. Thus, the strengthening of parliaments in Northern European states (where kin marriage of dynasties was particularly widespread) may have shielded them from the detrimental effects of inbreeding.

Constitutional Origins and Liberal Democracy: A Global Analysis, 1900–2015
Gabriel Negretto & Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


A strong tradition in democratic theory claims that only constitutions made with direct popular involvement can establish or deepen democracy. Against this view, we argue that new constitutions are likely to enhance liberal democracy when they emerge through a plural agreement among political elites with distinct bases of social support. Power dispersion during constitution writing induces the adoption of institutions that protect opposition forces from the arbitrary use of executive power without unduly impairing majority rule. However, since incumbents may renege on the bargain, the democratizing effect of politically plural constitutional agreements is likely to be larger in the short term, when the identity of negotiating political forces and the balance of power between them tend to remain stable. We find support for these arguments using an original global dataset on the origins of constitutions between 1900 and 2015 and a difference-in-differences design.

Dictators Differ From Democratically Elected Leaders in Facial Warmth
Miranda Giacomin, Alexander Mulligan & Nicholas Rule
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Despite the many important considerations relevant to selecting a leader, facial appearance carries surprising sway. Following numerous studies documenting the role of facial appearance in government elections, we investigated differences in perceptions of dictators versus democratically elected leaders. Participants in Study 1 successfully classified pictures of 160 world leaders as democrats or dictators significantly better than chance. Probing what distinguished them, separate participants rated the affect, attractiveness, competence, dominance, facial maturity, likability, and trustworthiness of the leaders’ faces in Study 2. Relating these perceptions to the categorizations made by participants in Study 1 showed that democratically elected leaders looked significantly more attractive and warmer (an average of likability and trustworthiness) than dictators did. Leaders’ facial appearance could therefore contribute to their success within their respective political systems.


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