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Academic Publications

  • Springman, Jeremy, Eddy Malesky, Lucy Right, and Erik Wibbels. (2022). “The Effect of Government Repression on Civil Society: Evidence from a Conjoint Survey Experiment in Cambodia.” International Studies Quarterly. [available here.]
    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 has 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.

Policy Reports 

  • Lucy Right. (2023). “Evidence Summary Briefing Series: Six Briefs on Community-Driven Development in Rural Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan.” World Bank Group (WBG).
  • Malesky, Eddy, Lucy Right, and Erik Wibbels. (2022). “Impact Evaluation: Solid Waste Accountability Program (SWAP) in Cambodia.” United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
  • Malesky, Eddy, Lucy Right, and Erik Wibbels. (2022). “Endline Report: Solid Waste Accountability Program (SWAP) in Cambodia.” United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Working Papers

  • “Democratic Returns to Pluralism in Autocracy: Opposition Representation and Local Development in Cambodia’s Commune Councils”  [draft here.]
    The proliferation of “competitive authoritarian” regimes has rendered the participation of legal opposition parties commonplace in authoritarian elections, legislatures, and sub-national councils, yet we know little about how the opposition’s participation in these institutions affects how they function and the outcomes they produce. In this paper, I consider three mechanisms through which the opposition party’s participation in local authoritarian institutions might “matter” for public goods delivery: by increasing political competition, by conferring oversight authority to opposition politicians, and by increasing opposition representation in local political institutions. Drawing from the democratic literature on the effects of pluralism and competition on corruption, I theorize that there are reasons to expect increased opposition participation in local institutions to translate to better governance in each case. I test my hypotheses using three distinct research designs, making use of original data from over 16,000 contracts for commune infrastructure projects in Cambodia’s 1633 elected commune councils and a novel close-elections regression discontinuity design in a proportional representation setting. I find evidence that increased political competition alone fails to lead to improvements in governance; however, increases in the opposition’s share of seats in local institutions leads to significant increases in the number of bidders in competitive procurement and decreases in the price at which contracts are secured. The findings suggest that the opposition’s participation in local political institutions can have important effects on authoritarian governance, even where the prospects for an outright opposition victory remain low.
  • “Doubling Down or Backing Down: Heterogenous Donor Responses to NGO Laws,” with Jeremy Springman and Erik Wibbels [draft here]
    Government efforts to restrict civic space have increased dramatically, including the proliferation of laws that constrain the operations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Despite these actions conflicting with the interests and objectives of many foreign donors, this proliferation has been especially dramatic in aid-receiving countries. How do donors respond to these attacks, and do their responses vary according to how they prioritize support for 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 the enactment of restrictive NGOs laws, and a variety of research designs including two-way fixed effects event study models, synthetic control analysis, and placebo tests. We find strong evidence that advocacy-oriented donors back down. The findings advance our understanding of the costs and benefits aid-receiving countries face when engaging in democratic backsliding.
  • “Rhetoric vs. Reality: How Aid Sanctions Affect Funding for Local Actors in Aid-Recipient Countries,” with Kelly Hunter and Pei-Yu Wei
    Economic sanctions have become a crucial statecraft tool for policymakers who seek to coerce or punish other states in the international system. However, the economic and humanitarian consequences of sanctions are borne not only by states but also by local actors such as non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and the citizens which they serve. Such is especially true in the case of aid withdrawal, a particularly prevalent form of sanctions instrument: over 75% of the sanctions imposed between 1989 and 2016 by the EU, US, or the UN included an aid sanction component. Despite the ubiquity of aid withdrawal as a sanctions tool, we have little understanding of how the burden of aid withdrawal is shared by local implementing partners on which the US relies for aid delivery. Using the synthetic control method, we analyze aggregate differences in US foreign assistance to local implementation partners in both sanctioned and non-sanctioned aid recipient countries for the years 2002-2020. We find that the imposition of aid sanctions produces an immediate, drastic, and lasting decrease in US funding to local public sector institutions with little immediate change in aid flows for local NGOs. The results suggest that aid sanctions are an effective tool for pressuring the public sector without spillover effects for the local NGO community.

Research in Progress

  • “The Effect of the U.S. Bombardment of Cambodia on Khmer Rouge Recruitment,” with Emily Myers and Erin Lin
  • “Risking it to Run: the Calculus of Candidacy in Local Authoritarian Elections”
  • “Opposition Oversight and the Geographic Distribution of Electoral Fraud in Cambodia”
  • “Conceptualizing Opposition Parties in Autocracy”