The Authoritarian Wager: Mass Political Action and the Sudden Collapse of Repression. Comparative Political Studies (May, 2019) with Branislav Slantchev

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.  

Under Review

Strategic Backlash: Why do leaders antagonize foreign states?

Diplomatic campaigns are nearly always nominally intended to attract support from foreign actors. However, many diplomacy campaigns fail spectacularly in that regard and some even decrease foreign support for the leader or the leader's preferred policy. While these events have largely been explained as diplomatic failures, I argue that alienating the apparent target of an international diplomacy campaign can be a purposeful strategy of political leaders used to garner support from segments of their own domestic audience. When a leader's domestic audience has preferences opposed to those of a specific foreign actor, a costly backlash from the foreign actor can be a credible signal that the leader shares the domestic audience's preferences. Therefore, in certain cases, by intentionally provoking a backlash from a valuable foreign actor, leaders can exchange foreign condemnation for an increase in domestic support. I support this argument with evidence from Netanyahu's 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress. Using data from overlapping surveys in the U.S. and Israel, I find that Netanyahu's efforts resulted in a significant backlash among American Democrats and a corresponding increase of support among right-wing Israelis, a crucial constituency for his upcoming election.

When Does Statebuilding Work? Military Intervention and the Lifespan of Previously Failed States. with David Lake

What is the effect of armed statebuilding on the survival of previously failed states? Do military interventions by great powers or international organizations during periods of state failure increase the subsequent durability of “rehabilitated states”? Fearing ungoverned spaces, the international community responds to failed states by funneling aid, experts, peacekeepers, and military forces in various guises into conflict zones with the ambition of rebuilding effective states. There has been relatively little research, however, on whether such interventions – especially in their most ambitious and extreme forms as indicated by armed interventions – are effective. Using multiple definitions of state failure, and the set of military interventions by great powers or international organizations, we develop a model of state failure with baseline covariates from the Political Instability Task Force model. We examine all states that have failed and their subsequent durability in the period 1956-2006. Under most model specifications, armed statebuilding has no significant effect on later state survival. However, we find that military interventions can prolong the time to the next failure when a failed autocracy democratizes and when the statebuilder does not move the failed state’s policies closer to its own. These results challenge current statebuilding practices.

Working Papers

Invaluable cheap talk: When low-cost public diplomacy works

Leaders spend valuable time on international public diplomacy campaigns, but it remains uncertain when -- or whether -- they are successful in these endeavors. I propose that in order to predict the success of public diplomacy, we must evaluate how the speaking leader is viewed by key subsets of the target public. While leaders conducting public diplomacy cannot convince every member of a foreign public to support their preferred policy, they can sometimes tip the scale of public opinion by persuading individuals whose preferences are aligned with the speaker on the issue at hand. I present evidence from Obama's 2016 visit to the U.K. that aimed to persuade British voters to oppose Brexit. Leveraging micro-level trade exposure paired with individual-level survey data, I show that Obama successfully increased opposition to Brexit within the subset of Brits who shared his preferences on maintaining the trade relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.: those who personally relied most heavily on trade with the U.S.

Willing to Talk? Comparing Diplomatic Systems in the 19th and 20th Century. with Shuhei Kurizaki

When and why do states choose to establish and terminate diplomatic relations with other states? Do diplomatic exchanges follow economic, strategic, or political interest?  To answer these questions, we are collecting annual data on bilateral diplomatic relations among European states in the 19th century (1815-1913) and global bilateral relations in the 20th century (1945-2017).  With this data, we will analyze the determinants of diplomatic relations in order to evaluate how the use of both formal and physical diplomatic relations has changed over time and varies between countries.