Research

Publications

When Militias Provide Welfare: Lessons from Pakistan and Nigeria.” With Yelena Biberman, Political Science Quarterly 133(4): 695-727.

Militias are often noted and studied for their violent behavior towards civilians.  Still underexplored and poorly understood is their provision of welfare to local communities. Why do some militias provide welfare while others do not?  We argue that the timing of access to material resources plays an important role in the militia’s willingness and capacity to provide welfare.  While wealthy militias lack the incentives and poor militias lack the capacity to provide public goods, “nouveau riche” militias – which begin poor and acquire wealth later on – are most likely to provide welfare.  The empirical implications of the argument are explored with a structured comparison of six militias in Pakistan and Nigeria.  Our findings help to illuminate the broad range of militia behavior and bridge three burgeoning literatures – on militias, non-state welfare, and insurgent behavior in civil war.

“Elite Competition, Social Movements, and Election Violence in Nigeria.” (Forthcoming in International Security, Vol. 45, No. 3, Winter 2020/21)

Election violence varies significantly within countries, yet how and why are undertheorized. Although existing scholarship has shown how national-level economic, institutional, and contextual factors increase a country’s risk for violence during elections, these studies cannot explain why elites organize election violence in some localities, but not others. An analysis of gubernatorial elections in Nigeria reveals the conditions under which elites recruit popular social movement actors for pre-election violence. Gubernatorial elections are intensely competitive when agreements between governors and local ruling party elites over the distribution of state patronage break down. To oust their rivals and consolidate power, elites recruit popular reformist groups for pre-election violence and voter mobilization. Conversely, when local ruling party elites are aligned over how state patronage is to be distributed, the election outcome is agreed to well in advance. In this scenario, there is little incentive to enlist social movement actors for violence. Case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council and Boko Haram provide empirical support for the argument. The theory and evidence help to explain subnational variation in election violence, the relationship between intraparty politics and violence during elections, and speak to broader questions about political order and violence.

Works-in-Progress

“When Do Armed Groups Refuse to Carry Out Election Violence?” (Revise and resubmit)

A rapidly expanding literature on election violence finds that political parties and elites often turn to various nonstate armed actors to carry out election violence on their behalf, including ethnic militias, gangs, drug-trafficking organizations, and paramilitaries, among others.  Yet the motivations of these different groups, what they seek to gain from election violence, and when they turn down politicians’ overtures, are poorly understood.  The paper seeks to address these questions with comparative case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council and the O’odua People’s Congress in Nigeria’s 2003 election.  Triangulating across in-country research, interviews, newspaper articles, election observer reports, NGO publications, and a rich academic literature, I show that armed groups’ internal politics shape their leaders’ decisions to engage in election violence for incumbent governors.  Specifically, groups divided by leadership rivalries are more likely to carry out election violence for incumbents than those with cohesive leadership.  Leaders of rival factions accept money and arms from incumbents to try to eliminate their competitors, and in exchange, agree to carry out election violence for their backers.  In contrast, groups with cohesive leadership are more likely to turn down incumbents’ overtures given the risks of cooptation and reputational damage.  In addition to advancing scholarship on the role of armed groups in election violence, the paper moves forward our understanding of the meso-level dynamics of election violence and suggests that existing conflict resolution mechanisms might be usefully applied to disincentivizing armed groups from perpetrating election violence.

“When Governments Tolerate or Repress Armed Groups: Evidence from Nigeria (Under review)

Why do national-level incumbents tolerate some armed groups but repress others?  Existing scholarship has shown that governments willingly cede control over violence to ethnic militias, criminal organizations, vigilantes, and other armed groups, but we have a limited understanding of the individual decision-making calculus that drives these dynamics and how these calculations vary over time and across groups.  The paper argues that two variables help to make sense of national-level incumbent responses to armed groups: armed groups’ relationship with local elite allies and their legitimacy with local populations.  It studies the Bakassi Boys and the Ijaw Youth Council in Nigeria, tracing changes in national-level incumbent responses over time to create most similar cases, and comparing responses across groups as most different cases.  The findings contribute to scholarly understanding of the micro-level dynamics of government responses to armed groups, complementing previous work that has focused on international and national-level contextual factors. 

“Who’s to Blame for Election Violence? Civil Society Narratives from Nigeria and Kenya” (Writing in progress)

“Can Americans Depolarize? Assessing the Effects of a Red/Blue Workshop Experiment,” with Hannah Baron, Robert A. Blair, Donghyun Danny Choi, Laura Gamboa, Jessica Gottlieb, Amanda Lea Robinson, Steven C. Rosenzweig, and Emily A. West (Writing in progress)

“Election Violence, Misinformation and Vote Choice” (Planning in progress)