I research political parties, electoral behavior, ethnic politics, and urban politics in developing countries. My work seeks to understand phenomena that contradict or are neglected by conventional views of developing democracies as patronage-ridden rural polities structured along ethnic lines. These phenomena range from puzzling patterns of electoral behavior and public spending, to understudied processes of political cooperation and competition among poor urban migrants in rapidly expanding cities. My empirical research is rooted in the study of South Asia, specifically India, a region whose incredible socio-cultural and political diversity make it especially well suited for comparative analysis.

Research Program 1: Political Parties and Poor Voters in Poor Democracies

My first research agenda examines interactions between political parties, religious social movements, and poor voters in developing democracies. My book, Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How Social Services Win Votes in India addresses a central paradox of electoral politics - why do poor people often vote against their material interests? Specifically, I examine why many poor, lower caste voters in India began supporting the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been traditionally viewed as an elitist upper caste party. I demonstrate how arguments derived from studies of advanced democracies (such as values voting) and poor polities (such as patronage and ethnic voting) all fail to explain the BJP’s unlikely success. 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. I show how this approach is best suited to elite parties with thick organizations, which in the developing world are most often rooted in religious movements. Related articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review and World Politics.

Several articles further investigate relationships between political parties, ethnic politics, and service provisioning. ‘Poor Choices’ (Contemporary South Asia, with Ronald Herring) examines why poor lower castes across Indian states do not form homogenous electoral blocs as anticipated by instrumental models of class or ethnic voting. ‘Ethnic Parties and Public Spending’ (Comparative Political Studies, with Emmanuel Teitelbaum) challenges scholarship that similarly homogenizes ethnic parties as uniformly winning support by narrowly distributing patronage to co-ethnics. Instead, we argue Indian ethnic parties vary significantly in their commitment to inclusive public spending, due to differences in the breadth of identities they mobilize. ‘Neoliberalism’s Two Faces’ (Comparative Politics) shifts to examine how varying structures of domestic support for Indian, Pakistani, and Malaysian politicians explain why these states exhibited divergent commitments to spending on education, even while implementing highly similar market reforms.

Research Program 2: Migrant Politics in Indian Cities

My current research continues to focus on the political behavior of poor citizens, but shifts to examine this topic through the prism of rapid urban migration. Specifically, I examine patterns of political cooperation and conflict within expanding poor migrant communities in Indian cities. 

The first difference I examine is spatial. Unlike rural areas structured along ethnic lines, African and Asian cities spatially concentrate poor migrants of various ascriptive groups into diverse worksites and slum settlements. Do ethnic divisions significantly shape patterns of competition and cooperation within these diverse migrant communities, or are they subsumed by shared economic positions in the city? ‘Do Internal Migrants Divide or Unite Across Ethnic Lines?’ (American Journal of Political Science) addresses this question through seven months of ethnographic fieldwork, and an ethnographically informed survey experiment conducted among 3000 poor migrants in India.

A second difference between city and village for many poor migrants is institutional. Villagers often experience significant changes in their patterns of interactions with the state after arriving in destination cities. The informal (and often illegal) conditions in which most poor migrants live and work curtail their access to distributive interactions with the state, while simultaneously increasing their exposure to state repression. Little is known, however, about how repression shapes the formation of these nascent urban communities. “Does Police Repression Increase Cooperation Between Migrants?” addresses this question through ethnographic fieldwork and a survey experiment conducted among 2400 migrants at labor and street vendor marketplaces in India.

The third shift I examine is political. Informal leaders in rural India historically emerged from traditional village hierarchies that urban slums settled by poor migrants lack. Instead, these settlements must select new informal leaders from aspirants within their own ranks. ‘Co-Ethnicity, Capability, and Connectivity’ (R&R, with Adam Auerbach) hypothesizes that co-ethnicity will prove less important in such selection decisions than existing models of distributive politics predict. Instead, we expect slum residents to cue more strongly on new and nuanced urban indicators of capability, vertical connectivity to bureaucrats and politicians, and horizontal connectivity to other slum residents. We test these expectations through an ethnographically informed conjoint survey experiment implemented among a representative sample of 2200 slum residents in 110 settlements in two Indian cities.  In a related paper, we reverse our perspective to examine the determinants of slum leader responsiveness to their residents. To do so, we will conduct a conjoint survey experiment with over 700 actual Indian slum leaders enumerated across our 110 slum settlements. This survey hopes to provide some of the first systematic evidence about the political behavior of slum leaders- an increasingly crucial political broker in the developing world. More broadly, the citizen and leader surveys collectively contribute novel evidence on cycles of accountability between brokers and citizens in developing democracies.