"How Clients Select Brokers: Competition and Choice in India's Slums" (with Adam Auerbach). Forthcoming, American Political Science Review. Featured in Livemint, India in Transition, and Ideas4India.
Conventional models of clientelism often assume poor voters have little or no choice over which local broker to turn to for help. Yet communities in many clientelistic settings are marked by multiple brokers who compete for a following. Such competition makes client choices, and the preferences guiding such choices, pivotal in fueling broker support. We examine client preferences for a pervasive broker—slum leaders—in the context of urban India. To identify resident preferences for slum leaders, we conducted an ethnographically-informed conjoint survey experiment with 2,199 residents across 110 slums in two Indian cities. Contra standard emphases on co-ethnicity, we find residents place heaviest weight on non-ethnic indicators of a broker’s claim-making capacity. A survey of 629 slum leaders finds client-preferred traits distinguish brokers from residents. In highlighting processes of broker selection, and the client preferences that undergird them, we underscore the centrality of clients in shaping local brokerage environments.
"Improving Surveys Through Ethnography: Insights from India's Urban Periphery." Forthcoming, Studies in Comparative International Development.
Survey-based research on political behavior in the developing world faces challenges in accessing important populations, particularly those marked by high rates of mobility and informality. The growing use of cognitively demanding experimental questions also heightens construct validity concerns for surveys administered to poorly educated populations. I argue that ethnographic fieldwork can help researchers address these twin challenges of access and construct validity. I substantiate these arguments with data and insights from fifteen months of fieldwork among an especially challenging population: circular urban migrants in India.
“The Strategic and Moral Imperatives of Local Engagement: Reflections on India." (with Milan Vaishnav). PS: Political Science & Politics, 51, 3 (July): 546-549.
U.S.-based political scientists studying low-income countries make many demands of the communities we study. Yet in conceiving our projects and disseminating our findings, our attention is dominated by the imperatives provided by academic outlets written largely by and for other U.S.-based academics. In this article, we advocate broadening engagement with local communities we study through still relatively underutilized channels: writing for local news and scholarly outlets, and presenting at conferences and workshops for predominantly local audiences in the countries we study. We argue that there are professional incentives and a moral imperative to subject our work to local scrutiny at multiple stages of progress.
"Do Rural Migrants Divide Ethnically in the City? Evidence from an Ethnographic Experiment in India." 2017. American Journal of Political Science, 61, 4 (October): 908-926. Featured in Livemint.
Despite rapid urbanization across the Global South, identity politics within rural-urban migrant communities remains understudied. Past scholarship is divided over whether village-based ethnic divisions will erode or deepen within diverse poor migrant populations. I assess these divergent predictions through an ‘ethnographic survey experiment’ (N=4,218) among unique samples of poor migrants in India. Contra conventional expectations, I find intra-class ethnic divisions are neither uniformly transcended nor entrenched across key arenas of migrant life. Instead, I observe variation consistent with situational theories predicting ethnic divisions will be muted only in contexts triggering a common identity among migrants. I pinpoint urban employers and politicians as these triggers. Poor migrants ignore ethnic divisions when facing these elites, who perceive and treat them in class terms. However, migrants remain divided in direct interactions with each other. These bifurcated findings imply poor migrants may be available for both class-based and ethnic mobilization in the city.
"Ethnic Parties and Public Spending: New Theory in Evidence from the Indian States" (with Emmanuel Teitelbaum). 2015. Comparative Political Studies, 48, 11 (September): 1389-1420.
Social scientists largely see ethnic politics as inhibiting public goods provisioning within developing democracies. Such parties are thought to uniformly rely on distributing excludable benefits to co-ethnics, rather than on providing public goods to all. We argue that ethnic parties can vary substantially in how they mobilize support and behave in office. Much of this variation depends on the breadth of the identity they activate. Although “narrow” ethnic parties do indeed entrench patronage politics, the rise of more “encompassing” ethnic parties can actually improve levels of voter autonomy, expand the effective size of winning coalitions, and increase spending on broadly available public goods. We develop and test this argument with evidence from the Indian states, including a nationally representative survey of 20,000 Indian voters and a panel data set of 15 major states over four decades.
Why do poor people often vote against their material interests? This article extends the study of this global paradox to the non-Western world by considering how it manifests within India, the world’s biggest democracy. Arguments derived from studies of advanced democracies (such as values voting) or of poor polities (such as patronage and ethnic appeals) fail to explain this important phenomenon. Instead, I outline a novel strategy predicated on an electoral division of labor enabling elite parties to recruit the poor while retaining the rich. Recruitment is outsourced to nonparty affiliates that provide basic services to appeal to poor communities. Such outsourcing permits the party to maintain programmatic linkages to its elite core. Empirically, I test this argument with qualitative and quantitative evidence, including a survey of more than 9,000 voters. Theoretically, I argue that this approach is best suited to elite parties with thick organizations, typically those linked to religious social movements.
“Embedded Mobilization: Nonstate Service Provision as Electoral Strategy in India.” 2011. World Politics, 63 (July): 434-469. Featured in the Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time blog and Business Standard.
Despite growing interest in the potential electoral impact of private service provision by religious parties, there is a paucity of systematic empirical research on the subject. Can a welfare-based strategy win votes? If so, is this tactic best conceptualized as a purely material exchange of services for votes? This study provides a conceptualization of private service provision as an electoral strategy that is distinct from both programmatic politics as well as clientelist vote-buying. I argue that service provision mobilizes direct beneficiaries for material reasons, but unlike vote-buying also mobilizes many non-beneficiaries in the localities where providers work. Unlike episodic and transactional vote-buying, the daily act of service provisioning embeds providers within communities. Such 'embedded' activists are able to mobilize non-beneficiary support through a number of channels, from recruiting effective local candidates and workers to influencing voters through social networks, and the use of rumor and suggestion. I support these arguments with evidence from religious welfare undertaken by Hindu nationalists in central India.
“Neoliberalism’s Two Faces in Asia: Globalization, Educational Policies, and Religious Schooling in India, Pakistan and Malaysia.” 2009. Comparative Politics, 41 (July): 473-494.
Why do Southern Asian economies implementing similar market reforms exhibit dramatically different commitments to spending on education? What are the political consequences of such differences? Drawing of a comparison of India, Pakistan, and Malaysia, I argue varying structures of domestic support explain these differences. The development of a vertical patronage-based political system in India and Pakistan has created incentives for policymakers to be more concerned with ensuring continued patronage flows to their elite supporters during reforms. Consequently South Asian politicians have adopted the rhetoric of advocates of privatization and interpret neoliberalism as justifying the 'retreat of the state' in social policy arenas. By contrast, Malaysian politicians relying on horizontal support from poor ethnic Malays has had stronger incentives to expand educational provision to allow its supporters to compete for jobs in the deregulated economy with wealthier ethnic Chinese and Indians. It has accordingly espoused a different discourse regarding states and markets, stressing the government's responsibility for preparing its citizens for the conditions of the global marketplace.
“Poor Choices: Dealignment, Development and Dalit/Adivasi voting patterns in Indian states” (with Ronald Herring). 2008. Contemporary South Asia, 16 (December): 441-64.
Lower caste and tribal communities are by no means the homogeneous voting block portrayed in many electoral analyses of Indian politics, and consistently undermine the popular conceptualization of Indian electoral and party behavior as identity-based or ethnic. Instead, recent electoral surveys confirm a growing trend for these disadvantaged populations to vote for radically dissimilar parties. Using national election data from the 1999 and 2004 elections, we argue that at least some of this variance can be explained by the fact that differences in state-level conditions influence which of the array of strategies used by Indian parties to recruit Dalit and Adivasi voters is likely to be successful.
Heightened police repression is an important feature of urban life for poor migrants in the developing world. Yet little is known about how police repression shapes patterns of cooperation and conflict within these proliferating urban communities. I address this question by combining 5 months of ethnographic fieldwork with an original large-scale survey experiment conducted among poor migrants (N=2400) in urban India. Far from fracturing poor migrant communities, I find repression increases rates of political and economic cooperation within them. These solidarity effects stem from both empathy and self-interest, and are rooted in shared experiences of repression. Strikingly, they can even extend across inter-migrant economic and ethnic rivalries. My findings reveal repression to be a novel and neglected pathway of migrant identity formation in the developing world. More broadly, this study extends research on how repression shapes mass protest to consider how it impacts everyday relations between frequently repressed citizens.