Current Research Projects

My research to date has primarily focused on understanding demand for public services by firms and the mass public in weakly institutionalized settings, as well as the conditions under which these stakeholders co-invest in service provision. My research plans for the next five years primarily center around answering three unresolved questions from this work. My primary research project will explore the conditions under which services can be used as a tool for garnering political support. This project will explore how and when politicians can link services to electoral behavior in electoral authoritarian settings, as well as how the ability of voters to attribute responsibility (or lack thereof) shapes support for specific politicians in these settings. My secondary research project will continue my work on demand for social policy and redistribution in settings with weak institutions but shift the focus to preferences over which groups should receive government aid and social policy benefits. My final research project will continue my work on employers’ demand for training and education services, exploring the conditions under which they engage in persistent partnerships with state institutions to invest in public provision.

Public Services, Attribution, and Political Support in Electoral Autocracies

How do politicians in electoral authoritarian regimes make use of public services in order to generate political support? In this project, I build on existing research that highlights the key role that attribution of responsibility for service provision plays in the use of strategies to build institutional trust and political support. Regardless of de jure responsibility, this literature argues that voters punish (or reward) those politicians they perceive as responsible for outcomes. A growing body of work suggests that attribution is problematic and therefore puzzling in non-democracies, however. On the one hand, the centralized nature of autocracies suggests that claims that local officials are responsible for service outcomes should not be credible. From this perspective, outcomes will always be attributed to the autocrat and should shape overall institutional trust and regime support. On the other hand, empirical work has shown that autocrats often shift blame (or claim success) in ways that divorce their support from real-world outcomes. This perspective suggests that voters are discerning and that the effects of service outcomes on trust and support depend greatly on which specific regime actors are viewed as responsible. My work will explore this puzzle by first examining how and to whom individuals attribute responsibility for services in electoral authoritarian regimes. It will then explore the implications of attribution for trust in specific autocratic politicians and support for the regime as a whole.

Existing work on attribution of responsibility for policy outcomes and political support in electoral authoritarian regimes primarily focuses on structural factors: local political competition or media freedoms. In my work, I instead shift focus to the strategies the authorities use to deliver services. Building on my first project, I argue that individuals’ expectations about whether services are tied to electoral behavior are generally rooted in how they are delivered. For example, expectations that services depend on individual behavior should arise from discretionary local allocation, in which local officials are able to monitor behavior and dole out services appropriately. I argue that where service quality is perceived to be linked to individual behavior (i.e. clientelist exchange), individuals are more likely to attribute responsibility to local officials. Consequently, perceptions of their quality will shape support for local officials but not other actors or the regime overall. Conversely, where expectations that services are tied to electoral outcomes is low, they are more likely to be attributed to – and strengthen support for – the broader regime.

To test the argument, I will rely on the same, regionally representative survey of more than 16,250 Russians across 60 regions used in my project on expectations. In addition to the list experiments designed to measure expectations about whether (and how) services are linked to electoral behavior, the survey also contains more traditional observational questions on political support for various officials, beliefs about their responsibility for specific services, and service quality. By leveraging cross-regional variation in the nature of these expectations, I hope to show how the service provision strategies deployed by officials shape both attribution and ultimate political support. Crucially, my design will also enable me to explore the role of expectations in attribution and political support vis-à-vis prominent arguments in the emerging literature on electoral autocracies: local political competition and media control.

Binding Ties, Binding Commitments: Evidence from Public-Private Partnerships in Vocational Education

Work on the political economy of investment emphasizes the importance of credible commitments between the firms and the state for developmental outcomes. How can credible commitment be generated in environments characterized by pervasive state-led violence, expropriation, and weak constraints on officials? This project explores this question through the lens of public-private partnerships in vocational education in Russia’s regions. Research on Europe and the OECD cases emphasizes a strong civil society, such as strong workers’ and employers’ associations, along with free-markets overseen by a well-constrained state, as crucial to fostering credible commitments between firms and the state that allow for cooperative co-investment in vocational education. Yet in many Russian regions, cooperative efforts in vocational education have emerged despite weak employer associations and unions; poorly functioning market institutions; and weak institutions that enable pervasive state corruption and violent predation. In this paper, I argue that in the absence of strong formal institutions, personal ties between state officials and businesses allow firms to acquire information about potential partners within the state bureaucracy and punish low-level officials for breaching agreements and engaging in rent-seeking. This mechanism creates commitment mechanisms between well-connected firms and the state that allow for co-investment. The state in turn uses its powers of contract enforcement to insure that firms do not free-ride on cooperative institutions, creating credibility between firms. To test this theory I take advantage of an original dataset of all public-private partnership contracts between Russian firms and public vocational education institutions from 2013 to 2019. Drawing on a separate dataset of all Russian firms, I match firms that participate in public-private partnerships to non-participants to create a sample for analysis. I use a unique database of biographical information on regional executives, legislators, and firm officers in the sample to trace their shared work histories, birthplaces, and education and establish connections. This work has important implications for the literature on vocational education and public-private partnerships, as well as for research on business-state relations and investment in violent, weakly institutionalized settings.


Building Social Policy: Behavior, Institutions, and Redistribution
with Sarah Wilson Sokhey (University of Colorado-Boulder)

How does the quality of institutions shape both supply and demand for redistributive social policy across the world? Existing accounts of demand for social policy tends to largely assume good faith on the part of state actors: benefits promised by the state de jure today will be paid out de facto tomorrow baring uncontrollable shocks. This project challenges this central assumption by arguing that the quality of institutions – human constraints on human interaction – have important consequences for the ability of politicians to keep their promises. Weak institutions lead to many problems, including low accountability, weak rule of law, and corruption. These problems shape demand for social policy by enabling select groups to benefit at the expense of others, while creating new vulnerabilities for everyone else. This project develops a generalized framework for understanding the link between institutional failures and support for state-run redistributive programs. By showing the concrete costs (or benefits) of these institutional failures for different groups, we generate a broad set of predictions about support for social policy where institutional quality is poor. We then link these to a broader theory of supply and demand for social policy that helps explain how institutions shape welfare state outcomes. We argue that poor quality institutions alter demand for social policy by destroying the credibility of complex, sustainable, long-term social policies. This in turn creates incentives for politicians to supply social policies focused on short-term payouts and simple eligibility criteria. We test the observable implications of our theory using a combination of laboratory and survey experiments, coupled with cross-national statistical analysis and case studies.

Substantively, this project is important, because social policy is a crucial instrument for reducing poverty and encouraging skill investment. However, in practice it often becomes a crass tool for buying political support and regime maintenance. Knowing who supports particular social policies and why is crucial to understanding which purpose it serves. As such, understanding the micro-foundations of social policy support are crucial for understanding how policies are designed and their implications for the popular underpinnings of political support, poverty, inequality, and development.