This page includes published work and work under review. Click on the titles to view the full articles. Google Scholar Link

Peer-Reviewed Publications

van Ham, Carolien and Brigitte Seim. Forthcoming. “Strong States, Weak Elections? How State Capacity in Authoritarian Regimes Conditions the Democratizing Power of Elections.” International Political Science Review.

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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. 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.

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.


Under Review

Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Staffan Lindberg, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Svend-Erik Skaaning, and Jan Teorell. Varieties of Democracy. Under contract with 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.

Carlson, Elizabeth, and Brigitte Seim. “Honor among Chiefs: An Experiment on Transparency and Leakage in Malawi.”

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Traditional, hereditary chiefs are an integral part of the development infrastructure in many African countries, but the literature on how chiefs perform in this role, and to whom they are accountable, is sparse and inconsistent. To capture chiefs’ behavior as agents of development, and identify their principals, we track how 200 Malawian village chiefs 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, chiefs are responsive to all their principals; however, the 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, the best outcomes are obtained when chiefs are monitored by the donor, and only the donor. When chiefs are monitored by all their principals simultaneously, diversion is not robustly lower than under control, but dissatisfaction among subjects is higher. This study contributes to the literatures on chiefs and informal accountability, highlights the need to consider common agency when designing and analyzing informational interventions, and provides guidance for policymakers who rely on traditional chiefs as development partners.

Jablonski, Ryan, and Brigitte Seim. “How Transparency Affects Distributional Politics: A Field Experiment Among Elected Politicians in Malawi.”

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How does transparency affect distributional politics? We theorize that it conditions how officials choose recipient communities, compelling them to allocate to needy communities rather than to core supporters. We present the results of a field experiment in which 333 elected incumbent councillors in Malawi made real and meaningful decisions about the allocation of NGO-provided development goods to schools in their constituency. Prior to allocating goods, half of the incumbents were informed that letters about their decisions would be sent to local development oversight committees. We find that this transparency treatment caused incumbents to allocate goods to recipient school communities with greater economic need. They were also less likely to allocate to schools with strong political support. To our knowledge, this is the first experimental evaluation of theoretical claims about the role of transparency in distributional politics using in-office elected leaders as participants and observing real distributional decisions.

Marquardt, Kyle, Daniel Pemstein, Constanza Sanhueza Petrarca, Brigitte Seim, Steven Lloyd Wilson, Michael Bernhard, Michael Coppedge, and Staffan I. Lindberg.“Experts, Coders, and Crowds: An Analysis of Substitutability.”

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Recent work suggests that crowd workers can replace experts and trained coders in common coding tasks. However, while many political science applications require coders to both find relevant information and provide judgment, current studies focus on a limited domain in which experts provide text for crowd workers to code. To address potential over-generalization, we introduce a typology of data producing actors – experts, coders, and crowds – and hypothesize factors, which affect crowd-expert substitutability. We use this typology to guide a comparison of data from crowdsourced and expert surveys. Our results provide sharp scope conditions for the substitutability of crowd workers: when coding tasks require contextual and conceptual knowledge, crowds produce substantively different data from coders and experts. We also find that crowd workers can cost more than experts in the context of cross-national panels, and that one purported advantage of crowdsourcing – replicability – is undercut by an insufficient number of crowd workers.

McMann, Kelly, Daniel Pemstein, Jan Teorell, Brigitte Seim, and Staffan Lindberg. “A Measurement Assessment Approach: Assessing The Varieties of Democracy Corruption Measures.”

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Social scientists face the challenge of assessing the quality of their measures, yet flexible and rigorous standards to do so remain elusive. This paper presents a three-component approach to measurement assessment, each component incorporating multiple tools: 1) assessing content validity by using face validity and factor analysis tools; 2) assessing the validity and reliability of the data generating process; and 3) assessing convergent validity with case studies and comparisons across coders and measures. We apply our approach to corruption measures from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project, concluding the article by delineating the V-Dem Corruption Index’s comparative strengths and limitations, including areas where its use may present different findings from extant corruption measures.

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

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Democracy, or responsive government, should, in theory, also mean less corrupt government. Yet, research has shown not a negative linear relationship between democracy and corruption, but rather an inverted curvilinear one. This paper offers a theoretical framework, tested empirically, to account for the inverted curvilinear relationship between democracy and corruption. Our argument is, first, that a small increase in democracy reduces the transactions costs and increases the benefits of corruption. Second, only at high levels of democracy do the costs of corruption increase and democratic accountability relationships flourish. We use the Varieties of Democracy dataset to disaggregate the concepts of democracy and corruption empirically and time-series, cross-sectional regression analysis to test hypotheses about the disaggregated relationships. We find that, collectively, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the presence of elections, combined with whether they are free and fair, and judicial and legislative constraints on the executive drive the curvilinear relationship between democracy and corruption. The mere introduction of elections increases most forms of corruption, thus accounting for the upward sloping segment of the inverted curve. Then, once the quality of elections begins to improve, most forms of corruption decreases, resulting in the downward-sloping segment of the curve.

Robinson, Amanda, and Brigitte Seim. “Who is Targeted in Corruption? The Effects of Wealth, Power, and Coethnicity on Exposure to Bribery.”

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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 and his or her ability to exact retribution. We conducted a field experiment in Malawi to determine the effect of political connections, socioeconomic status, and shared ethnicity on a citizen’s exposure to corruption across two contexts: police roadblocks and electricity service offices. We found that political connections reduced exposure to bribery, while relative wealth only insulated citizens from corruption when it was used as a proxy for political power. Shared ethnicity with a public official increased bribe solicitation, but only when seeking an electricity connection, which we attribute to institutional features of the electricity service offices that increase risks to corrupt officials. These findings indicate that officials make strategic decisions about when to engage in corruption, disproportionately targeting the poor and politically powerless.