Research

Working Paper:

Look Who’s Watching: Observer effects in public opinion research with Irfan Nooruddin. Under Review at the Journal of Politics

Dissertation Chapters: 
Powering through – political uncertainty in hybrid service delivery regimes

The ability to maintain control over public goods is at the heart of the debate on distributive politics. This study investigates outsourcing of state-provided public goods to private stakeholders – what happens to the relationship between citizens and political leaders, when the latter no longer influence service delivery? Taking advantage of the varying quality of privatized electricity in the megacity of Karachi, Pakistan, and the hybrid provision of water in the city, I suggest that the privatization of public goods can increase political uncertainty. In particular, I show that citizens experience the decline of successful claim-making to the state for privatized public goods, I find that this learnt behavior has a spillover effect on other, state-provided public goods. Ethnographic data from over ten months of fieldwork, and a unique dataset of over 25,000 service delivery clusters, are used to examine the effect of varying quality of service delivery on political outcomes. Finally, I test these claims using an original survey of 1000 households. I suggest that instead of being viewed as discrete outcomes, two or more services can interact to inform lived experiences and behavior in urban centers. In particular, positive learnt experiences from privatized public goods can spillover to state-provided public goods, and negative experiences can cause voters to exit.

Disempowered: Political trust and service delivery

The liberalization of public goods such as electricity and water is a worldwide phenomenon, a major goal of liberalization reforms is to improve bill recovery and reduce losses to the utility firm. As privatized utility firms in the developing world seek to better discriminate between payers and non-payers of their service, a nontrivial number of households get ‘stuck’ under collective punishment regimes, especially in densely populated megacities. This study uses a dataset of over 25,000 electricity service delivery clusters in Karachi, Pakistan to examine impacts on institutional and inter-personal trust when households are quasi-randomly assigned to ‘high’ and ‘low’ electricity outage areas, and find that high outage areas are considerably less trusting of institutions but not of each other. Second, using an original survey experiment (N=1019), I find that messages linking outages and theft, when delivered by an authority, reduce trust in neighbors. I use qualitative data and vignettes to suggest that transitions to liberalized utility regimes, while beneficial to some consumers in the short term, have unintended long-term negative outcomes for accountability and collective action.