Televising Justice during War

(with Austin Wright and Stephen Stapleton)
Forthcoming at the Journal of Conflict Resolution

Television is an overlooked tool of state building. We estimate the impact of televising criminal proceedings on public use of government courts to resolve disputes. We draw on survey data from Afghanistan, where the government used television as a mechanism for enhancing the legitimacy of formal legal institutions during an ongoing conflict. We find consistent evidence of enhanced support for government courts among survey respondents who trust television following the nation’s first televised criminal trial. We find no evidence that public confidence in other government functions (e.g. economy, development, corruption) improved during this period. Our findings suggest that television may provide a means of building state legitimacy during war and other contexts of competition between political authorities. [Paper]

Presidential Rhetoric and Populism

(with Susan Stokes and Ipek Çinar)
Presidential Studies Quarterly, 50:240-263

Scholars and the general public have been struck by the norm-shattering rhetoric of President Donald J. Trump. His “rhetorical signature” is heavy with Manichean good-versus-evil messages, vilification of his opponents, and disdain for institutions and for evidence. But many politicians vilify their opponents and style themselves as uniquely able to solve their society’s problems. In fact, Trump’s Manichean discourse is typical of populist leaders, in the United States and around the world. Using text-as-data analysis of campaign rhetoric, we study the content and mood of presidential campaign speeches by a range of U.S. politicians, which allows a broader perspective not only on the uniqueness of Trump’s rhetoric, but also its continuities with the rhetoric of others. This analysis allows us to define Trump as a right-wing populist. Right-wing populists, like left-leaning ones, are anti-elitist and Manichean in words and outlook. However, the two versions of populism differ in the nature of the anti-elitism, with right-wing populists targeting political elites and left-wing ones targeting economic elites. Right-wing populists also define the “other” as ethnic out-groups, who threaten the ethnically pure “people.” [Paper]

Working papers

State Capacity, Local Politics, and the Geography of Contestation

(with Noah Schouela)

Does state capacity deter armed challengers? An influential strand of research in political science asserts that it does. By this logic, armed groups are less likely to emerge and grow when states successfully extend coercive capacity across their territory. We suggest that this claim, which we refer to as the ``opportunity thesis,’’ is theoretically under-specified and empirically under-examined. In this paper, we offer a new theoretical account of the opportunity thesis, highlighting the importance of power projection and civilian agency. We evaluate this argument on data from the Colombian civil war. Leveraging exogenous variation in local state capacity caused by landslide-induced road closures, we find that short-term negative shocks to state capacity increase the likelihood of insurgent-state clashes. Importantly, this effect does not hold when local communities harbor strongly anti-insurgent attitudes. These results have implications for theories of state capacity, political contestation, and civilian agency in war. [Paper available upon request]