The Political Economy of NGO Service Provision: Evidence from an Ancillary Field Experiment in Uganda
Accepted at World Politics [paper] [appendix] [PAP]

In developing countries, the share of basic services delivered by NGOs has grown dramatically due to increased receipt of aid and philanthropy. Many scholars and practitioners have worried that NGOs reduce reliance on government services, lowering demand for government provision and undermining political engagement. Others argue that NGOs prop-up poorly performing governments that receive undeserved credit for the production, allocation, or welfare effects of NGO services. Using a randomized health intervention implemented parallel to a similar universal government program, I investigate the effect of NGO provision on political attitudes and behavior. Access to NGO services increased preferences for NGO provision relative to government provision. However, political engagement and perceptions of government legitimacy were unaffected. Instead, results suggests the intervention generated political credit for the incumbent President. I find evidence that citizens see NGOs as a resource controlled by powerful government actors, and they reward actors seen as responsible for allocation.

The Effect of Government Repression on Civil Society: Evidence from Cambodia
Accepted at International Studies Quarterly [paper and appendix][PAP]
with Edmund Malesky, Lucy Right, and Erik Wibbels

NGOs are a core component of a robust civil society and operate in a wide variety of sectors, ranging from service delivery to political advocacy. However, research has yet to systematically investigate whether the impact of government repression varies across NGO activities. We hypothesize that advocacy NGOs are more affected by repression than those in service delivery. Surveying 176 employees from 106 NGOs in Cambodia, we employ a conjoint experiment to examine how the level of repression affects a task crucial to NGOs’ survival: obtaining funding via grant applications. We find that while increases in the severity of repression appears to have a stronger deterrent effect for advocacy NGOs, repression has a large deterrent effect on service NGOs as well. Interviews and text analysis of open-ended questions suggest that local officials target both advocacy and service delivery NGOs, but for different reasons. Our findings speak to the spread of authoritarianism and the challenges NGOs face in countries with closing civic spaces.

Under Review

Oil Discoveries and Political Windfalls: Evidence on Presidential Support in Uganda
Revise & Resubmit at Political Science Research and Methods [paper] [appendix]
with Laura Paler, Guy Grossman, and Jan Pierskalla

It is widely believed that oil discoveries cause bad governance and conflict. However, research on the political resource curse argues that oil often increases support for incumbent chief executives while the conflict curse literature suggests it erodes it, especially when discovered in opposition areas. We draw on research on distributive politics to theorize how the effects of oil on incumbent support will vary depending on whether it is discovered in core, swing, or opposition constituencies. Our findings, based on electoral and survey data from Uganda and a difference-in-differences design with heterogeneous effects, show that differential voter responsiveness to targeted oil benefits increased support for the incumbent when oil is discovered in swing constituencies. Ultimately, we highlight how the local political context shapes the effect of oil on the strength of support for the incumbent chief executive, with important implications for understanding the roots of both the political and conflict curses.

Aid Flows and Incumbency Advantage: Evidence from NGO Projects in Uganda

Most studies of electoral returns to foreign aid focus on projects implemented by aid-receiving governments and subject to political control. Recently, donors have sought to bypass political capture by channeling aid through NGOs. Combining fine-grained spatial data on aid and elections in Uganda, I show that although NGO-implementation reduces political influence, voters still reward incumbents for NGO projects. To isolate a causal effect, I use difference-in-differences designs, matching on covariates selected using machine learning, and a placebo test based on spatial lags. Using original survey data, I show that credit results from citizens seeing powerful politicians as controlling the allocation of NGO projects. Drawing on health, election, and campaign data and an extensive battery of tests, I provide additional evidence for the mechanism and rule-out alternative explanations. Even when designed to prevent political windfalls, development assistance may entail a trade-off between improving the welfare of citizens and strengthening autocrats.

Working Papers

The Effect of Closing Civic Space on Aid: Evidence from 2.3 Million Donor Projects
with Lucille Right and Erik Wibbels

Government efforts to restrict civic space have increased dramatically, including laws that constrain the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Despite these laws conflicting with the interests and objectives of many foreign donors, they have been especially common in aid-receiving countries. How do donors respond, and do their responses vary according to their historical prioritization of advocacy work? On one hand, advocacy-oriented donors may push back by increasing funding to projects that support advocacy relative to other donors. Alternatively, advocacy-oriented donors may back down by disproportionately decreasing support for advocacy as it becomes more difficult to work with local partners. We test these arguments using dyadic data on aid flows, original global data tracking NGOs laws, and a variety of research designs event study models, synthetic control analysis, and placebo tests. We find that advocacy-oriented donors back down, with implications for the incentives aid-receiving countries face when engaging in democratic backsliding.

Resurgent Authoritarian Influence and Democratic Erosion: Evidence from Machine-Generated Cross-National Data
with Erik Wibbels, Fatih Serkant Adiguzel, Diego Romero, and Donald Moratz

Over the last 15 years, powerful non-democracies have become more autocratic and more assertive in their efforts to influence less powerful nations. This resurgence of authoritarian influence, and the contemporaneous erosion of democratic freedoms in many countries, has caused anxiety about the future of liberal democracy. To date, the absence of quantitative data on authoritarian influence has prevented a systematic evaluation of these claims. This paper has three objectives. First, we introduce a new, high-frequency dataset tracking influence by Russia and China in 10 low- and middle-income countries between 2012 and 2021. Second, we describe monthly trends in RAI since 2012, including the specific tools used to influence target countries. Third, we assess empirically whether the deployment of common RAI tools is predictive of attacks on democratic freedoms in target countries. In doing so, we provide one of the first tests of an empirical claim driving high-level decision-making in foreign policy and international advocacy.

New Measures, Old Questions: Revisiting the Latent Dimension of Democracy
with Serkant Adiguzel, Mateo Villamizar Chaparro, Scott de Marchi, and Erik Wibbels

The “third wave of autocratization” has brought renewed attention to the study of regime types and political transitions. This attention has been accompanied by a proliferation of new and more nuanced measures of regime type. However, less attention has been given to understanding whether new measures of democracy successfully identify distinct characteristics of democracy. We combine new approaches using machine learning for dimensionality reduction with principal component analysis and new democracy measures to investigate the latent dimensions of democracy. In line with previous work, we present evidence that the majority of the variation in democracy indices is captured in a one-dimensional space. However, we do not find that specific analytic features of democracy consistently load to a second dimension. We ‘ground-truth’ this result by replicating important findings in the study of democracy. Our findings give reason to doubt the utility of new and more nuanced measures of democracy.

Commissioned Policy Reports

Retrospective of USAID’s Response to Pandemic-Enabled Democratic Backsliding [DAC ID: PA-00Z-6HN]

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, DRG Center; January 2022.

Local Organizations–Movement Towards Self Reliance: Impact Evaluation Pre-Analysis Plan

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; August 2021

CSO Social Media Activity: Midline Report

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; June 2021

Are Legal Changes to Civic Space Associated with Protest? Evidence from High-Frequency Cross-National Data

Prepared for Internews and United States Agency for International Development; March 2021

Mapping NGO Networks: Evidence from a Survey of NGOs in Cambodia

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; February 2021

The Responsiveness of NGOs to Government Repression: Experimental Evidence from Cambodia

Prepared for the INSPIRES Consortium and United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; January 2021

What Predicts Changes in Civic Space? Evidence from Forecasts in Serbia

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Serbia Mission; January 2021.

CSO Budget Data Accuracy: An Analysis Using Benford’s Law

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development; Learning, Evaluation, and Research Activity II, December 2020.

Local Organizations–Movement Towards Self Reliance: Impact Evaluation Baseline Report [DAC ID: PA-00X-47C]

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development; Learning, Evaluation, and Research Activity II, September 2020.

Local Organizations–Movement Towards Self Reliance: Impact Evaluation Design Report [DAC ID: PA-00W-CZ5]

Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; January 2020.