Peer-Reviewed Publications

When Armed Groups Refuse to Carry Out Election Violence: Evidence from Nigeria.2021.World Development.

Social science research on election violence shows that incumbents regularly turn to different nonstate armed groups to organize violence during elections, including ethnic militias, gangs, criminal organizations, and paramilitaries, among others. Less well known are the motivations of these different actors, what they seek to gain from election violence, and when they turn down incumbents’ overtures. From a practitioner perspective, understanding when armed groups supply election violence for incumbents is important because of the severe consequences of such acts, including economic hardship, forced displacement, damaged infrastructure, and costs to human life. The paper asks: under what conditions do armed groups agree or refuse to perpetrate election violence for incumbents? Drawing on most similar case studies of the Ijaw Youth Council and the O’odua People’s Congress in Nigeria, we find that internal armed group politics help to explain how these actors respond to incumbent governors’ demands for election violence. Specifically, groups divided by leadership rivalries agree to perpetrate election violence for incumbents whereas those with cohesive leadership refuse to do so. Leaders of rival factions accept money and arms from incumbents to try to eliminate their competitors, and in exchange, agree to organize violence during elections for their incumbent sponsors. In contrast, groups with cohesive leadership turn down incumbents’ overtures given the risks of cooptation and weakened community support. The findings contribute to our understanding of how election violence is co-produced by elites and nonstate armed groups by explaining the motivations and decisions of the latter. More broadly, the paper speaks to larger questions about security challenges in developing democracies. The findings also highlight the need for greater attention to interventions to prevent armed groups from engaging in election violence on behalf of political elites.

Elite Competition, Social Movements, and Election Violence in Nigeria.” 2020/21, International Security, 45(3): 40-78.

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.

When Militias Provide Welfare: Lessons from Pakistan and Nigeria.” With Yelena Biberman, 2018, 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.


“The Politics of Government-Armed Group Relationships in Africa (Under review)

Under what conditions do governments support, tolerate, or try to rein in armed groups within their borders? The paper argues that governments strategize toward armed groups in ways that help them remain in power, highlighting center-periphery politics and two armed group characteristics. I find that governments support armed groups in provinces where local elites have defected from the ruling coalition to opposition parties, using these groups to deliver the province in national elections through fraud and violence. Where governments are not fighting to keep provinces in the ruling coalition, I show that they tolerate non-dissident groups that enjoy social contracts with local communities, and try to contain their dissident counterparts. Governments are likely to repress predatory armed groups, dissident and non-dissident alike. Doing so helps boost elite and mass support for the government and project central government power into the periphery. The argument was inductively built with comparative case studies from Nigeria and then evaluated in Kenya. The findings contribute to an important emerging research agenda on government-armed group relationships and carry implications for security sector aid and reform.

“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 (Under review; working paper available here)

Overcoming America’s deep partisan polarization poses a unique challenge: Americans must be able to disagree on policy while nonetheless agreeing on more fundamental democratic principles. We study one model of depolarization—reciprocal group reflection—inspired by marital counseling and implemented by a non-governmental organization, “Braver Angels.” We randomly assigned undergraduate students at four universities either to participate in a Braver Angels workshop or simply to complete three rounds of surveys. The workshops significantly reduced polarization according to explicit and implicit measures. They also increased participants’ willingness to donate to programs aimed at depolarizing political conversations. These effects are consistent across partisan groups, though some dissipate over time. Using qualitative data collected during the workshops, we generate a new theory of depolarization that combines both informational and emotional components such that citizens, moved to empathize with an outgroup, become more likely to internalize new information about outgroup members.

“Election Violence and Political Participation in Nigeria,” with Justine M. Davis (Data collection and analyses in progress)

“Class Politics and Perspectives on Accountability and Election Violence in Kenya” (Data collection and analyses in progress)

“Uncomfortable Truths: Political Elites and Researcher Responsibility in Violent Settings,” with Niloufer Siddiqui (Writing in progress)