Some dissent

Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2019

The Freedom House Survey for 2018: Democracy in Retreat
Nate Schenkkan & Sarah Repucci
Journal of Democracy, April 2019, Pages 100-114


Democracy is in retreat globally. In 2018, Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World survey recorded the thirteenth consecutive year of decline in freedom around the world. This reversal has spanned a variety of countries across every region, from longstanding democracies such as the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia. The relative international power of the highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as newly industrialized economies gain greater clout. Meanwhile, the major democracies are flagging in their support for core democratic norms, which under are serious threat around the world. The norms under attack include free-and-fair elections, term limits for executives, freedom of expression, and protection of the rights of migrants and refugees. Nonetheless, surprising improvements in Angola, Armenia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Malaysia show that democracy has enduring appeal.

Yes, Human Rights Practices Are Improving Over Time
Christopher Fariss
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


To document human rights, monitoring organizations establish a standard of accountability, or a baseline set of expectations that states ought to meet in order to be considered respectful of human rights. If the standard of accountability has meaningfully changed, then the categorized variables from human rights documents will mask real improvements. Cingranelli and Filippov question whether the standard of accountability is changing and whether data on mass killings are part of the same underlying conceptual process of repression as other abuses. These claims are used to justify alternative models, showing no improvement in human rights. However, by focusing on the coding process, the authors misunderstand that the standard of accountability is about how monitoring organizations produce documents in the first place and not how academics use published documents to create data. Simulations and latent variables that model time in a substantively meaningful way validate the conclusion that human rights are improving.

Elections, Protest, and Trust in Government: A Natural Experiment from Russia
Timothy Frye & Ekaterina Borisova
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


How do elections and postelection protest shape political trust in a competitive autocracy? Taking advantage of largely exogenous variation in the timing of a survey conducted in Moscow in 2011, we find that with few exceptions the election had little systematic effect on political trust, perhaps because vote improprieties were not new information. In contrast, the unexpected protest that followed increased trust in government. In this case, heightened trust arises largely from opposition voters — those most likely to be surprised by permission to hold the protest — who update their beliefs. We argue that when autocrats permit protest unexpectedly, citizens may update their beliefs about the trustworthiness of the government. Our results suggest that citizens may cue not off the content of a protest but off the government’s decision to permit it. In addition, autocrats can increase trust in government by allowing protest when it is unexpected.

To Serve the People: Income, Region and Citizen Attitudes towards Governance in China (2003–2016)
Jesse Turiel, Edward Cunningham & Anthony Saich
China Quarterly, forthcoming


Through use of a unique, multi-year public opinion survey, this paper seeks to measure changes in self-reported governmental satisfaction among Chinese citizens between 2003 and 2016. Despite the persistence of vast socio-economic and regional inequalities, we find evidence that low-income citizens and residents living in China's less-developed inland provinces have actually reported comparatively greater increases in satisfaction since 2003. These results, which we term the “income effect” and “region effect” respectively, are more pronounced at the county and township levels of government, which are most responsible for public service provision. Our findings also show that the satisfaction gap between privileged and more marginalized populations in China is beginning to close, in large part owing to efforts by the Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping administrations to rebalance the gains of economic growth and shift resources towards the populations most overlooked during China's first few decades of reform.

Terror per Capita
Michael Jetter & David Stadelmann
Southern Economic Journal, forthcoming


Studies on the correlates of terrorism usually analyze total numbers of attacks or victims per country. However, what we may ultimately care about in terms of policy recommendations is the likelihood of any individual being subject to the respective phenomenon. Thus, we propose and explore a simple alternative measure of terrorism: terror per capita. Studying terror per capita across 162 countries from 1970–2015, the associated correlates differ substantially in terms of sign, levels of statistical significance, and magnitude from those when analyzing total terror. We illustrate two cases in point, serving as proof of concept. First, democracy, often associated with more total terror, emerges as a marginally negative predictor of terror per capita. Second, a larger share of Muslims in society is associated with a positive and statistically significant link to total terror, but emerges as a negative predictor of terror per capita. We find similar changes in sign and statistical relevance for GDP per capita and language fractionalization as correlates of terrorism. Depending on the policy question, studying terror per capita can greatly enhance our understanding of terrorism drivers, especially when analyzing data across countries with vastly differing population sizes.

Non‐Governmental Monitoring of Local Governments Increases Compliance with Central Mandates: A National‐Scale Field Experiment in China
Sarah Anderson et al.
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Central governments face compliance problems when they rely on local governments to implement policy. In authoritarian political systems, these challenges are pronounced because local governments do not face citizens at the polls. In a national‐scale, randomized field experiment in China, we test whether a public, non‐governmental rating of municipal governments' compliance with central mandates to disclose information about the management of pollution increased compliance. We find significant and positive treatment effects on compliance after only one year that persist with reinforcement into a second post‐treatment year. The public rating appears to decrease the costs of monitoring compliance for the central government without increasing public and media attention to pollution, highlighting when this mode of governance is likely to emerge. These results reveal important roles that nonstate actors can play in enhancing the accountability of local governments in authoritarian political systems.

On the Origins of the State: Stationary Bandits and Taxation in Eastern Congo
Raul Sanchez de la Sierra
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming


A positive demand shock for coltan, a mineral whose bulky output cannot be concealed, leads armed actors to create illicit customs and provide protection at coltan mines, where they settle as “stationary bandits.” A similar shock for gold, easy to conceal, leads to stationary bandits in the villages where income from gold is spent, where they introduce illicit mining visas, taxes, and administrations. Having a stationary bandit from a militia or the Congolese army increases welfare. These findings suggest that armed actors may create “essential functions of a state” to better expropriate, which, depending on their goals, can increase welfare.

Individual Life Horizon Influences Attitudes Toward Democracy
Marie Lechler & Uwe Sunde
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Support for democracy in the population is considered critical for the emergence and stability of democracy. Macro-determinants and retrospective experiences have been shown to affect the support for democracy at the individual level. We investigate whether and how the individual life horizon, in terms of the prospective length of life and age, affects individual attitudes toward democracy. Combining information from period life tables with individual survey response data spanning more than 260,000 observations from 93 countries over the period 1994–2014, we find evidence that the expected remaining years of life influence the attitudes toward a democratic political regime. The statistical identification decomposes the influence of age from the influence of the expected proximity to death. The evidence shows that support for democracy increases with age but declines with expected proximity to death, implying that increasing longevity might help fostering the support for democracy. Increasing age while keeping the remaining years of life fixed as well as increasing remaining years of life for a given age group both contribute to the support for democracy.

Compensating Autocratic Elites: How International Demands for Economic Liberalization Can Lead to More Repressive Dictatorships
José Kaire
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


How does international pressure for economic liberalization affect repression in autocracies? I argue that demands for deregulation create a “compensation dynamic” that can lead to repression. Autocrats can liberalize to build goodwill with the international community, but liberalization also threatens the interests of domestic autocratic elites. Liberalization undercuts the networks of patronage and clientelism that empower elites. Thus, liberalizing the economy could weaken political insiders, potentially destabilizing the regime coalition. Insider elites look to counteract this threat by demanding that autocratic rulers commit to protecting the status quo. Dictators are likely to accede and increase repression to placate allies and avoid a potential coup. Crucially, this compensation dynamic only occurs when dictators see rebellion as a potential danger to their tenure. When elites are unable to coordinate a credible threat, dictators can heed international interests without having to compensate regime insiders. In contrast, statistical analyses of a global sample of autocracies show that economic liberalization is associated with repression when elites are strong enough to check dictators’ power.

Elite Kinship Network and State Building: Theory and Evidence from Imperial China
Yuhua Wang
Harvard Working Paper, March 2019


Why do some politicians support policies that strengthen state capacity while others oppose them? This article provides a novel theory and evidence on the micro-incentives of state building. I argue that state building requires elite collective action and derive that the geography of elite kinship network is correlated with their support for state strengthening. When politicians’ kin are geographically concentrated, they prefer a weak state because their kin can rely on low-cost private security and evade taxes to the state. When politicians’ kin are geographically dispersed, they prefer to move away from the status quo and build a strong state because it is more efficient to protect a large area using public security. A dispersed kinship network also solves politicians’ collective action problem by making them stand to benefit from the public goods. I offer empirical support using unusual data sources, such as tomb epitaphs, from eleventh-century China.

Economic Crisis, Natural Resources, and Irregular Leader Removal in Autocracies
Suthan Krishnarajan
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Why do autocratic leaders escape revolution, coups, and assassination during times of economic crisis? I argue that the spike in natural resource revenues since the 1960s has increased autocratic crisis resilience. The availability of this alternative revenue stream provides autocratic leaders with a constant inflow of money, increases their ability to repress dissent, and improves their access to international credit. Extending the analysis back to 1875, I show that the relationship between economic crisis and irregular leader removal in autocracies is strong and robust before the 1960s, but disappears in more recent periods. Interaction analyses confirm that the effects of economic crisis are moderated by natural resource income. These findings are robust to an array of alternative specifications, including analyses that address endogeneity concerns via instrumental variable (IV) estimation. A more particular examination of the theoretical mechanisms also supports the argument. These findings challenge widely held beliefs in the literature of a strong, direct effect of economic crisis on autocratic leader survival; they explain why economic crisis seems to destabilize some autocrats, but not others.

The Authoritarian Wager: Political Action and the Sudden Collapse of Repression
Branislav Slantchev & Kelly Matush
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


Authoritarian rulers tend to prevent political action, but sometimes allow it even if it leads to social conflict. The collapse of preventive repression is especially puzzling when rulers have reliable security forces capable of preventing protests. We develop a game-theoretic model that explores the incentives of authoritarians to repress or permit political contestation. We show that rulers with the capacity to fully repress political action create despotic regimes, but rulers with more moderate capacity might opt to allow open contestation. The status quo bias that favors regime supporters weakens their incentive to defend it. Rulers take the authoritarian wager by abandoning preventive repression and allowing opposition that threatens the status quo. The resulting risk gives incentives to the supporters to defend the regime, increasing the rulers’ chances of political survival. Even moderate changes in the structural capacity to repress might result in drastic policy reversals involving repression.

Oil income and the personalization of autocratic politics
Matthew Fails
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Personalist regimes are more reliant on natural resource rents than other models of autocracy, but the direction of causation is unclear. Resource wealth could finance patronage and allow leaders to skip construction of institutionalized systems of rule, leading to more personalized autocracies. Conversely, personalist leaders may increase resource extraction, since diversifying the economy could increase the power of rivals. I use data on the degree of personalism and level of oil income to disentangle these interpretations. The results show that increases in oil income are associated with subsequent increases in personalism within autocracies. Since personalist regimes are less likely to successfully democratize, the results also provide important evidence as to why oil impedes democracy.

How do civilians attribute blame for state indiscriminate violence?
Anna Pechenkina, Andrew Bausch & Kiron Skinner
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


State indiscriminate violence against civilians has been viewed as counterproductive for the government. This conclusion hinges on the assumption that indiscriminate violence aggrieves civilians against the government even when the rebels provoke the state by using civilians as human shields. An alternative view suggests that civilians recognize if the rebels exploit them as human shields and blame the rebels if such provocation occurs. We ask: do civilians evaluate all state indiscriminate violence in the same way or do they think of state indiscriminate violence differently when it is provoked by insurgents? Accounting for the covariate differences between individuals with and without personal experience of warfare in the survey data from postwar Ukraine, we find that personal exposure to violence shapes one’s blame attribution for provoked state attacks on civilians. Individuals unexposed to violence tend to take into account whether the government was provoked by the rebels. By contrast, individuals with personal experience of warfare tend to blame the government for indiscriminate attacks regardless of rebel provocation. This finding has implications for counterinsurgency scholarship and policy. It is likely that the difference between unexposed and exposed to violence civilians emerges in geographically isolated conflicts. If so, targeting of civilians may have different effects on the escalation of insurgency in geographically concentrated as opposed to widespread cases of violence.

Information, Secrecy, and Civilian Targeting
Daniel Krcmaric
International Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Why do some states target civilians with violence whereas others exercise restraint? I argue regimes are more likely to victimize civilians when they believe that they can hide their actions and thereby avoid international and domestic blowback. This means that governments will prove less likely to commit atrocities in situations where information and communication technologies (ICTs) make secrecy and plausible deniability difficult. Statistical analyses provide strong support for this claim. The findings shed light on how ICTs shape violence and how states strategically employ secrecy.

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