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 a Conjoint Survey Experiment in Cambodia
Revise & Resubmit at International Studies Quarterly [paper][appendix][PAP]
with Edmund Malesky, Lucy Right, and Erik Wibbels
NGOs engage in a variety of activities, ranging from delivering health services to advocating for political change. To limit oversight by civil society, governments often repress NGOs. Despite their many important roles, quantitative research has yet to investigate how restricted civic space impacts the behavior of NGOs operating in diverse sectors. Surveying employees from 106 NGOs in Cambodia, we employ a conjoint experiment to identify how the prevalence of repression affects a task crucial to NGOs’ survival: obtaining funding via grant applications. Consistent with expectations, we find that increases in the perceived prevalence of harassment has a stronger deterrent effect for advocacy NGOs. Surprisingly, we find that harassment also has a large deterrent effect on NGOs focused on service delivery. To explain this finding, we use text analysis of open-ended questions and in-depth interviews. Our results suggest that local officials target both advocacy and service delivery NGOs, but for different reasons.
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.
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.
The Effect of Civic Space Closures on Aid: Cross-National Evidence from NGO Laws
with Lucille Right and Erik Wibbels
Concerns over aid effectiveness have driven bilateral donors to increasingly rely on Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to implement official development assistance, providing much needed financial support for NGOs in contexts where domestic sources of funding can be lacking. In response to their growing influence, developing countries are increasingly adopting laws that restrict the activities, funding sources, and legal security of domestic and international NGOs. Using original, cross-national data on the enactment of restrictive NGO laws, paired with a dyadic dataset of bilateral aid flows channeled to NGOs by sector, we interrogate how donors’ different foreign aid priorities condition their response to closing civic spaces in aid-receiving countries. Our results provide insights into how donor priorities shape the incentives of governments in aid-receiving countries, the implications of domestic crackdowns on the resources available to civil society, and, ultimately, the nature of NGO work on the ground.
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.
Works in Progress
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.
Civic Space Closures and Political Protest: Cross-National Evidence from Legal Changes
with Donald Moratz and Erik Wibbels
We use original, high-frequency cross-national data on the passage of laws regulating civic space and protest events to assess whether and when civil society is successful at mobilizing resistance to restrictive changes to a country’s legal environment.
Commissioned Policy Reports
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 Activity: 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 Activity: Impact Evaluation Design Report [DAC ID: PA-00W-CZ5]
Prepared for United States Agency for International Development, Cambodia Mission; January 2020.