Hello and welcome!  I am a PhD candidate in the department of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, with a focus on authoritarian elections, hybrid regimes, and electoral manipulation. My primary subfield is comparative politics, and my secondary field is international relations. I use multiple tools in my research, including statistical analysis, methods for causal inference (such as statistical matching and regression-discontinuity designs), field interviews, and survey-experimental research. My work has been published in Electoral Studies and Democratization; a Russia-focused paper drawn from my dissertation is forthcoming at Europe-Asia Studies, while a fourth project is in the revise-and-resubmit phase. In 2016, I was selected to join UNC’s Royster Society of Fellows, a competitive, interdisciplinary program which honors a small number of graduate students for the significance of their dissertation research.

Dissertation summary

The most common form of authoritarianism in the modern world is authoritarianism with elections.  Elections in these hybrid, or electoral authoritarian, regimes have been shown to have a variety of stabilizing effects for incumbents, even as organized opposition contestation poses some risks.  My research investigates how authoritarian leaders attempt to manage these risks through electoral manipulation.  In particular, my dissertation addresses two interrelated questions: why are some elections manipulated more severely than others, and why do the techniques used to tamper with elections vary across space and over time?

To answer these questions, I investigate principal-agent dynamics between leaders who wish to influence the election result and the individuals who actually stuff the ballot boxes, buy the votes, or forge the results. These low-level actors who must bear the direct costs and risks of tampering with the election, while the direct benefits of manipulation accrue to the leader. I argue that this principal-agent relationship helps determine the severity and type of election manipulation that political leaders are able to generate.

In particular, I identify two factors that interact to shape the principal-agent relationship when it comes to electoral manipulation. First, the consolidation of patronage networks that link high-level political patrons with front-line agents affects agents’ incentive to engage in manipulation; agents are more likely to manipulate on behalf of a patron who controls a resource-rich, secure network of clients. Second, agents must evaluate the local risk of exposure and punishment for engaging in illegal forms of manipulation (including political and legal penalties). Features that affect these risks–including opposition party activity, civil society, and courts–I call local constraints. Where local constraints are high, agents are more willing to engage in harder-to-attribute forms of manipulation, like vote-buying or intimidation, than in tactics like falsification.

This theory has several implications for better understanding electoral manipulation. Most importantly, it suggests that an incumbent’s declining popularity alone will be insufficient to produce cleaner elections. Competitive elections can still lead to high levels of electoral manipulation if one candidate is able to maintain control over patronage resources. Manipulated elections that result in unexpectedly poor results for incumbents, which can provoke major protest, are more likely in cases where patronage networks themselves fragment and realign around competing patrons. Second, it emphasizes the importance of local opposition and civil-society activity in forcing incumbents away from cost-effective, but risky forms of manipulation like falsification, and toward costly techniques like vote-buying.

I test this theory using multiple methods. Election-forensic techniques use statistical analysis of precinct-level election results to look for non-random patterns in the data that can be indicative of manipulation. I employ multiple election-forensic tools to analyze election results in the subnational regions of Russia, Mexico, and Ukraine over time. I also conducted field interviews of election observers and administrators in Russia from September – December 2015, and conducted a survey experiment of public attitudes toward electoral manipulation in Russia in May 2016.

I passed my dissertation defense in January 2019, and will receive the PhD in May. I am currently working to revise the project as a book proposal in the coming year.