I use field experiments, survey experiments, and quantitative text analysis to understand democratic backsliding and political econonmy, with a regional focus on Southeast Asia. My dissertation concerns (i) how ordinary citizens perceive democratic backsliding in the context of a consolidating democracy, and (ii) the determinants that safeguard democracy in the age of electoral authoritarianism.

Under Review

Making Electoral Autocracy Work: Instability, Policy Concessions, and Unintended Consequence of Institutions [pre-print; appendix]

Literature on the political economy of nondemocracies suggests that autocrats use institutions to strategically strengthen political rule, while it downplays the economic cost of such political institutions. If formal institutions can offer leaders political benefits with negligible costs, then why don’t authoritarian leaders all adopt formal institutions? Using panel data over the period of 1974–2010, we identify one unintended consequence of autocratic institutions: as a response to domestic instability, leaders in electoral authoritarian regimes are more likely to adopt the more costly, mass-based policy concession compared to leaders in democracies. However, the effect of political instability on mass-based policy concessions in electoral authoritarian regimes is short- run, and weakened when the leader is established. Our findings join the burgeoning literature on authoritarian institutions and electoral authoritarianism, and suggest that while established leaders can use institutions as an instrument for survival, weak leaders might have to pay for the unintended economic cost of such institutions in an electoral authoritarian context.

Working Papers

Racing to Top: From Clientelism to Policy in the Philippines [pre-analysis]

We propose a supply-side argument to strengthen democratic accountability in the context of Philippine local elections. The literature on information and governance mainly looks at voters’ coordination dilemma, while we argue that politicians also lack a focal point to get themselves out of the clientelist equilibrium. Politicians are more likely to support an initiative that promotes campaign transparency and subsequently shift their campaigns away from clientelism if (i) they believe that their competitors will support the initiative (coordination constraint), and (ii) the new campaign strategy could lead to an electoral victory (electoral constraint). Given that both the coordination constraint and the electoral constraint are satisfied, candidates are incentivized to shift from personalistic strategies to policy campaigns. To our knowledge, this paper is one of the first attempts in the field to explore the determinants that could shift electoral politics out of the clientelist equilibrium by changing incentives on the supply side.

How Voters Perceive Democratic Backsliding in Developing Democracies [pre-analysis; pre-print; online appendix]

How do ordinary citizens perceive various instances related to democratic backsliding? We propose a methodology to measure democratic backsliding at the micro-level. Through a conjoint experiment and automated text analysis, we investigate how citizens in a developing democracy define democratic backsliding, as well as the situations under which people might or might not tolerate instances of democratic backsliding. The paper sheds light on the mechanisms of democratic backsliding from the demand side.

Work in Progress

Measuring Subnational Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia