Research

Who’s Watching? Observer effects in public opinion research with Irfan Nooruddin.

Research on social desirability effects in public opinion surveys consider question and interviewer effects. Here, we take advantage of a survey item recording the presence of other people at the time of the interview, to document a new kind of observer effect. We analyze twelve survey questions pertaining to political interest, participation, and opinion in the Indian National Election survey in 2009 (n=34,410). We find that women are less like to report an interest in or an opinion on politics if their husband or other adult family members are around at the time of the interview. Men are more likely to report participating in political activities if a small crowd is present. These findings have important implications for our understanding of political participation and the use and analysis of public opinion surveys in large parts of the developing world. Working paper version

Disempowered: Electricity, Citizenship, and the Politics of Privatization in South Asia  Dissertation available on ProQuest (Login required)

The ability to maintain political control over public goods is at the heart of the debate on distributive politics. Scholarship on patronage suggests that citizens’ dependence on political representatives for selective benefits leads to a perverse form of accountability. The privatization of service delivery is offered as a potential solution to remove debilitating effects of political influence on economic distribution. However, I argue that privatization can diminish the ability of citizens to voice dissatisfaction with public goods, and to be substantively represented by the state. I find that the economic redistributive effects notwithstanding, the political effects of privatization are under-theorized. This study uses the case of electricity privatization in Pakistan to answer the question – what happens to the relationship between citizens and their representatives, when the latter no long influence distributive outcomes? I suggest first that privatization diminishes the ability of citizens to use political representatives to lobby for better provision. Next, I argue that being “stuck” in low-provision neighborhoods makes individuals less likely to exercise their political power overall, even for non-privatized public goods. Finally, I propose that the mechanism by which this happens is the diminishing of inter-personal and institutional trust, as a consequence of households blaming their neighbors, and not the state or its subsidiaries, for poor service delivery. Over twelve months of qualitative research in Karachi, Pakistan, are used to generate these hypotheses and identify potential causal mechanisms. A unique spatial dataset of 25,000 service delivery clusters across the city, and an original survey and survey experiment (N~1000) are used to quantitatively test each part of my theory. I find that a virtuous cycle of trust between private institutions and consumers can create efficiencies in the consumption of scarce resources, and provide important psychic benefits. Conversely, a cycle of mistrust can create uncertainty that spills over into the political sphere. This work joins emergent scholarship that suggests that patronage in hyper-local contexts, far from being a one-way relationship between powerful state actors and powerless clients, is an important feedback loop for citizens to express priorities, preferences and satisfaction within and beyond the electoral cycle.

Disempowered: Political trust and service delivery Working Paper Version

Why are some households more likely to blame their neighbors for low-quality public services, and not the state or a service provider? States across the developing world seek to improve revenue collection for services such as electricity: often, by contracting to private firms. A key focus of these reforms is to differentiate between paying and non-paying consumers. Using original qualitative and survey data from Karachi, Pakistan, I examine the implementation of these reforms and find that many paying households get ‘stuck’ in non-paying neighborhoods, and are subject to collective punishment. I leverage a dataset of 25,000 service delivery clusters to suggest that uneven electricity distribution coincides with low political trust. Using a survey experiment, I find that messages informing citizens of theft have a causal impact, and lower reported trust in neighbors. I suggest that transitions to privatized utility regimes have unintended adverse consequences for political trust and participation.