Research

This page provides titles, abstracts, and PDF files for my peer-reviewed publications. Click on the titles of publications to view the PDF. Google Scholar Link

Peer-Reviewed Publications: Research on Governance and Accountability

Lagunes, Paul and Brigitte Seim. Forthcoming. “The State of Experimental Research on Corruption Control.” In Advances in Experimental Political Science, eds. Jamie Druckman and Donald Green. Cambridge University Press.

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Our chapter discusses experiments on corruption, with an emphasis on corruption control. We begin by recognizing the barriers to conceptualizing and measuring corruption as an outcome variable. Given our shared experience studying direct instances of bribery through field experiments, we also reflect on the unique challenges to designing and executing field experiments of this sort. Our chapter also reviews experiments whose treatment activates some form of accountability mechanism. A recent trend in the literature emphasizes mechanisms that empower the electorate to hold government officials accountable; however, a separate line of research examines the effectiveness of civil society and autonomous government bodies, such as anti-corruption agencies. Aiming to be as comprehensive as possible, we include a review of studies that test the role of wages and similar incentives to promote honest behavior among government officials. Our chapter critically reviews experiments with the aim of informing the next generation of experimental research on corruption.

McMann, Kelly, Brigitte Seim, Jan Teorell, and Staffan Lindberg. Forthcoming. “Why Low Levels of Democracy Promote Corruption and High Levels Diminish It.” Political Research Quarterly.

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Theory predicts democracy should reduce corruption. Yet, scholars have found that while corruption is low at high levels of democracy, it is high at modest levels, as well as low when democracy is absent. A weakness of studies that aim to explain this inverted curvilinear relationship is that they do not disaggregate the complex concepts of democracy and corruption. By contrast, this paper disaggregates both. We demonstrate that the curvilinear relationship results from the collective impact of different components of democracy on different types of corruption. Using Varieties of Democracy data, we examine 173 countries from 1900 to 2015, and we find freedom of expression and freedom of association each exhibit an inverted curvilinear relationship with corruption—both overall corruption and four different types. The introduction of elections and the quality of elections each act in a linear fashion—positively and negatively with corruption, respectively—but jointly form a curvilinear relationship with both overall corruption and many of its types. Judicial and legislative constraints exhibit a negative linear relationship with executive corruption. We offer a framework that suggests how these components affect costs and benefits of engaging in different types of corruption and, therefore, the level of corruption overall.

Anders, Gerhard, Fidelis Kanyongolo, and Brigitte Seim. 2020. “Corruption and the Impact of Law Enforcement: Insights from a Mixed-Methods Study in Malawi.” Journal of Modern African Studies 58(3).

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The article argues that the impact of law enforcement efforts against corruption deserves more scholarly attention. Drawing on a mixed-methods study from Malawi in Southern Africa, where a large-scale law enforcement operation has been investigating and prosecuting those involved in a 2013 corruption scandal known as ‘Cashgate’, the article explores the potential for corruption deterrence from the perspective of government officials in the Malawi civil service. Malawi provides a challenging environment for deterrence due to limited state capacity, weak law enforcement agencies, and widespread corruption. Nonetheless, the research findings show that Malawian government officials perceive prosecutions and convictions to deter corruption, both with regards to the law enforcement response to Cashgate specifically and law enforcement efforts in general. The findings from Malawi suggest that law enforcement and criminal justice have the potential to make an important contribution to anti-corruption strategies in Africa and the Global South at large.

Carlson, Elizabeth, and Brigitte Seim. 2020. “Honor among Chiefs: An Experiment on Monitoring and Diversion Among Traditional Leaders in Malawi.” Journal of Development Studies 56(8): 1541-1557.

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Traditional, hereditary chiefs are an integral part of the development infrastructure in many African countries, but there are few empirical studies examining how chiefs perform in this role and to whom they are accountable. To capture chiefs’ behavior as agents of development and understand the accountability mechanisms they face, we conduct a field experiment on 200 Malawian village chiefs, documenting how they distribute a valuable development good — iron roofing sheets — as we sequentially add monitoring by donors, subjects, and the state. We find evidence that even in the absence of formal accountability institutions, monitoring alters chief behavior; diversion of the materials is highest in the absence of monitoring. However, the chief’s principals have competing demands that counteract one another. We determine that while most of a chief’s principals prefer allocations based on need, a subset of the chief’s subjects — his relatives — prefer an allocation that benefits them. As the core of his social and economic networks, these principals are often able to override the demands of the chief’s other principals. Altogether, diversion is minimized when chiefs are monitored by the donor, and only the donor. When chiefs are monitored by all their principals simultaneously, diversion is not significantly lower (compared to control), but dissatisfaction among subjects is greater. This study contributes to the literatures on chiefs and informal accountability, highlights the need to consider common agency when designing and analyzing development interventions, and provides guidance for development practitioners who rely on traditional chiefs as partners.

Harris, Adam, Brigitte Seim, and Rachel Sigman. 2020. “Accountability and Public Sector Program Success: A Conjoint Experiment Among Bureaucrats in Africa.” Development Policy Review 38(5): 594-612.

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Whether public sector organizations implement programmes successfully is a key concern of development scholars and practitioners across the world. While many studies purport a link between social accountability and public sector performance, this relationship has been difficult to study empirically. This article examines whether bureaucrats anticipate that public sector programmes with information-sharing mechanisms, including visibility, transparency and collaboration, will be successful in terms of effectiveness and limiting corruption. The paper uses a conjoint survey experiment administered to thousands of bureaucrats across three African countries: Ghana, Malawi and Uganda. By asking bureaucrats – those with insider knowledge of government programme operations — about two hypothetical programmes with randomly assigned characteristics, we examine whether bureaucrats associate opportunities for monitoring by citizens and civil society groups with the success of public sector programmes. Across diverse country and organizational contexts, bureaucrats consistently attribute high probabilities of success to programmes that are visible to the public, transparent in their implementation, and open to collaboration with civil society. Moreover, the inclusion of any one of these information-sharing mechanisms can independently increase the perceived likelihood of success. The findings hold across institutional contexts and diverse subgroups of bureaucrats surveyed. To promote success in the implementation of public sector development programmes, officials should look for ways to increase the visibility of their programmes, set requirements for frequent public updates on programme progress, and build in opportunities for outside groups to collaborate.

Seim, Brigitte, Ryan Jablonski, and Johan Ahlbäck. 2020. “How Information about Foreign Aid Affects Public Spending Decisions: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Malawi.” Journal of Development Economics 146: 102522.

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Does foreign aid shift public spending? Many worry that aid will be “fungible” in the sense that governments reallocate public funds in response to aid. If so, this could undermine development, increase the poorest’s dependency on donors, and free resources for patronage. Yet, there is little agreement about the scale or consequences of such effects. We conducted an experiment with 460 elected politicians in Malawi. We provided information about foreign aid projects in local schools to these politicians. Afterwards, politicians made real decisions about which schools to target with development goods. Politicians who received the aid information treatment were 18% less likely to target schools with existing aid. These effects increase to 22–29% when the information was plausibly novel. We find little evidence that aid information heightens targeting of political supporters or family members, or dampens support to the neediest. Instead the evidence indicates politicians allocate the development goods in line with equity concerns.

Seim, Brigitte and Amanda Robinson. 2020. “Coethnicity and Corruption: Field Experimental Evidence from Public Officials in Malawi.” Journal of Experimental Political Science 7(1): 61-66.

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Corruption is widespread in many developing countries, though public officials’ discretion in the solicitation of bribes may expose some citizens to more corruption than others. We focus on how shared ethnicity between government officials and citizens influences the likelihood of bribe solicitation. We conducted a field experiment in which Malawian confederates seek electricity connections from real government offices – an interaction that is often accompanied by bribe solicitation – in which coethnicity between the official and the confederate was varied exogenously. We find that coethnicity increases the likelihood of expediting an electricity connection, both with and without a bribe. We interpret this as evidence of parochial corruption.

Robinson, Amanda and Brigitte Seim. 2018. “Who is Targeted in Corruption? Disentangling the Effects of Wealth and Power on Exposure to Bribery.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 13(3): 313-331.

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Corrupt government officials must weigh the potential costs and benefits of soliciting a bribe using limited information about a citizen’s ability to pay but also to punish. We conduct a field experiment in Malawi to determine the effects of political connections and socioeconomic status on a citizen’s exposure to corruption at traffic police roadblocks. We find that political connections reduce exposure to bribery, while relative wealth only insulates citizens from corruption when wealth serves as a proxy for political power. These findings indicate that officials make strategic decisions about when to engage in corruption, disproportionately targeting the politically powerless.

van Ham, Carolien and Brigitte Seim. 2017. “Strong States, Weak Elections? How State Capacity in Authoritarian Regimes Conditions the Democratizing Power of Elections.” International Political Science Review 39(1): 49-66.

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State capacity may be a crucial factor conditioning the democratizing power of elections in authoritarian regimes. This paper develops a two-phase theory considers the different effects of state capacity on turnover in elections and democratic change after elections. In regimes with limited state capacity, manipulating elections and repressing opposition is more difficult than in regimes with extensive state capacity, rendering turnover in elections more likely in weak states. However, if the new incumbent has limited capacity to deliver public services and make policy changes after coming to power, sustainable democratic change is unlikely. Hence, state capacity is hypothesized to have a negative effect on turnover, but a positive effect on democratic change. These hypotheses are confirmed in a sample of 460 elections in 110 authoritarian regimes taking place in the period 1974 to 2012 using the Varieties of Democracy dataset. The findings suggest a need to revisit strong-state-first theories of democratization.

Enemark, Daniel, Clark Gibson, Mathew McCubbins, and Brigitte Seim. 2016. “Power and Reciprocity: The Effect of Holding Office on Politician Behavior.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(48): 13690-13695.

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Reciprocity is central to our understanding of politics. Most political exchanges—whether they involve legislative vote trading, interbranch bargaining, constituent service, or even the corrupt exchange of public resources for private wealth—require reciprocity. But how does reciprocity arise? Do government officials learn reciprocity while holding office, or do recruitment and selection practices favor those who already adhere to a norm of reciprocity? We recruit Zambian politicians who narrowly won or lost a previous election to play behavioral games that provide a measure of reciprocity. This combination of regression discontinuity and experimental designs allows us to estimate the effect of holding office on behavior. We find that holding office increases adherence to the norm of reciprocity. This study identifies causal effects of holding office on politicians’ behavior.

Obradovich, Nicholas and Brigitte Seim. 2016. “African Voters Indicate Lack of Support for Climate Change Policies.” Environmental Science & Policy 66: 292-298.

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Will African voters support climate change policies? By 2020, the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund intends to provide tens of billions of dollars per year to African nations to support climate adaptation and mitigation policies. It is widely assumed that African citizens will support implementation of these climate policies. We observe the opposite result. In this article – across two experimental studies – we find evidence that Sub-Saharan African politicians who commit to climate change policies may lose electoral support. Electorally important swing voters with weak party affiliations are least likely to support party statements about climate change. Interviews with standing elected officials from Malawi and South Africa corroborate our experimental findings. The combined results suggest voter preferences may hinder the successful implementation of climate change policy in Sub-Saharan African democracies.

Seim, Brigitte. 2015. “Voter Response to Scandal: Cashgate and the Malawian Election.” In Democracy Maturing? The 2014 Malawi Tripartite Elections, eds. Nandini Patel and Michael Wahman. Lilongwe: National Initiative for Civic Education.

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Beginning in September of 2013, Malawi witnessed an immense, shocking and debilitating corruption scandal in the months leading up to the May 2014 elections. Dubbed ‘Cashgate,’ the scandal has had far-reaching effects, from the political to the economic to the social. This chapter considers its effects on the outcome of the May 2014 elections. I evaluate whether Cashgate negatively affected support for the incumbent President Joyce Banda and candidates belonging to the party she formed, the People’s Party. Evidence from a survey conducted in December 2013 indicates that Cashgate likely significantly decreased support for Joyce Banda and, to a lesser degree, other People’s Party candidates. This chapter also offers evidence of strong vertical accountability structures in Malawi. In the year or so leading up to the May 2014 election, voters received information about Cashgate (information), evaluated the degree to which Joyce Banda was responsible for the events leading up to the scandal and the actions taken to resolve it (justification), and then failed to re-elect her as president of the country (punishment). Cashgate offers a dismal picture of the functioning of Malawi’s government, but it gives us reason to be optimistic about the trajectory of Malawi’s democracy.

 

Peer-Reviewed Publications: Methods and Data for Governance and Accountability Research

McMann, Kelly, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Jan Teorell, and Staffan Lindberg. Conditional Acceptance (pending replication). “Assessing Data Quality: An Approach and An Application.” Political Analysis.

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Political scientists routinely face the challenge of assessing the quality (validity and reliability) of measures in order to use them in substantive research. While stand-alone assessment tools exist, researchers rarely combine them comprehensively. Further, while a large literature informs data producers, data consumers lack guidance on how to assess existing measures for use in substantive research. We delineate a three-component practical approach to data quality assessment that integrates complementary multi-method tools to assess: 1) content validity; 2) the validity and reliability of the data generation process; and 3) convergent validity. We apply our quality assessment approach to the corruption measures from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, both illustrating our rubric and unearthing several quality advantages and disadvantages of the V-Dem measures, compared to other existing measures of corruption.

Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Adam Glynn, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Staffan Lindberg, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Svend-Erik Skaaning, and Jan Teorell. 2020. Varieties of Democracy: Measuring Two Centuries of Political Change. Cambridge University Press.

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Varieties of Democracy integrates data from over 2,500 experts to provide data on 350 political indicators for more than 180 countries and over 100 years. As the project developed from 2007 to the present, its leaders made dozens of pivotal decisions that had consequences for the resulting dataset and its use – which countries to include, which years to include, whether to use objective or subjective indicators, which indicators to create, how to word each question, how to combine the indicators into indices, how to identify and recruit country experts, how to compensate them, how to validate the data they provided, how to ensure cross-country and over-time comparability, how to construct the measurement model, and how and when to make the data available to the public. In this book, these decisions will be systematically and comprehensively documented, in order to give users confidence in the quality of the V-Dem dataset.

Knutsen, Carl Henrik, Jan Teorell, Tore Wig, Agnes Cornell, John Gerring, Haakon Gjerløw, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Daniel Ziblatt, Kyle L Marquardt, Daniel Pemstein, and Brigitte Seim. 2019. “War and Democratization in the ‘Long 19th Century:’ Introducing the Historical Varieties of Democracy Dataset.” Journal of Peace Research 56(3): 440-451.

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The Historical Varieties of Democracy dataset (Historical V-Dem) contains about 260 indicators, both factual and evaluative, describing various aspects of political regimes and state institutions. The dataset covers 91 polities globally – including most large, sovereign states, as well as some semi-sovereign entities and large colonies – from 1789 to 1920 for many cases. The majority of the indicators come from the Varieties of Democracy dataset, which covers 1900 to the present – together these two datasets cover the bulk of ‘modern history’. Historical V-Dem also includes several new indicators, covering features that are pertinent for 19th-century polities. We describe the data, coding process, and different strategies employed in Historical V-Dem to cope with issues of reliability and validity and ensure intertemporal and cross country comparability. To illustrate the potential uses of the dataset we describe patterns of democratization in the ‘long 19th century’. Finally, we investigate how interstate war relates to subsequent democratization.

Marquardt, Kyle, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, and Yi-ting Wang. 2019. “What Makes Experts Reliable? Expert Reliability and the Estimation of Latent Traits.” Research & Politics 6(4): 1-8.

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Experts code latent quantities for many influential political science datasets. Although scholars are aware of the importance of accounting for variation in expert reliability when aggregating such data, they have not systematically explored either the factors affecting expert reliability or the degree to which these factors influence estimates of latent concepts. Here we provide a template for examining potential correlates of expert reliability, using coder-level data for six randomly selected variables from a cross-national panel dataset. We aggregate these data with an ordinal item-response theory model that parameterizes expert reliability, and regress the resulting reliability estimates on both expert demographic characteristics and measures of their coding behavior. We find little evidence of a consistent substantial relationship between most expert characteristics and reliability, and these null results extend to potentially problematic sources of bias in estimates, such as gender. The exceptions to these results are intuitive, and provide baseline guidance for expert recruitment and retention in future expert coding projects: attentive and confident experts who have contextual knowledge tend to be more reliable. Taken as a whole, these findings reinforce arguments that item response theory models are a relatively safe method for aggregating expert-coded data.

Seim, Brigitte. 2016. “Information and Power: Ethical Considerations of Political Information Experiments.” In Ethics and Experiments: Problems and Solutions for Social Scientists and Policy Professionals, ed. Scott Desposato. London: Routledge.

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This chapter considers experiments providing information to citizens in democracies about their government. As many dependent variables in political science are behavioral and behavioral change is challenging to set in motion, the interventions associated with information experiments are often designed to be as strong as possible. The strong interventions involved in this body of research have unique characteristics: 1) they often affect group-level outcomes, making them highly likely to incur spillover effects; 2) they often cause lasting harm to at least one person or group; and 3) the positive and negative outcomes from these interventions are ambiguous in time horizon, causal relationship to the research, and normative value. These attributes pose corresponding ethical challenges regarding calculating the costs and benefits of this research and obtaining consent from those affected. As an initial attempt to mitigate this gap, I suggest a framework for evaluating the ethics of these experiments in the research design phase. Using my own proposed audit experiment as a case study, I offer concrete ideas for assessing the costs and benefits of information experiments, disseminating information about the research to affected parties, and obtaining consent from participants and non-participants.