Research

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

Peer-Reviewed Publications

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

View Abstract

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.

Anders, Gerhard, Fidelis Kanyongolo, and Brigitte Seim. “Corruption and the Impact of Law Enforcement: Insights from a Mixed-Methods Case Study in Malawi.”

View Abstract

The article challenges the view that law enforcement does not merit attention because corruption is systemic and deeply entrenched in developing countries. It draws on a mixed-methods case study from Malawi in Southern Africa, where a large-scale law enforcement operation has been investigating and convicting those involved in a 2013 corruption scandal known as “Cashgate.” The evidence generated by qualitative ethnographic research and a quantitative conjoint survey experiment among government officials suggests that the arrests and convictions have had a deterrent effect from the perspective of government officials. The case of Malawi speaks to the debate about anti-corruption measures in Africa and developing countries at large. Whilst the international community and African policymakers have focused on establishing corruption prevention institutions and policies, this research indicates that corruption punishment can also be an effective anti-corruption strategy, even in contexts with gaps in the legal framework, widespread political influence and resource shortages.

Carlson, Elizabeth, and Brigitte Seim. “Honor among Chiefs: An Experiment on Monitoring and Diversion among Traditional Leaders in Malawi.”

View Abstract

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 than under 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.

Enemark, Daniel and Brigitte Seim. “Undergrads and Office Holders: Are University Labs Fair Testbeds for Game-Theoretic Models?”

View Abstract

Game theory begins with the assumption that politicians respond rationally to their strategic environments. Theorists develop models of strategic behavior, and experimentalists test these models in the lab. Theorists often object, however, to experimenters’ use of undergraduate subjects and modest cash payoffs. They argue politicians are more strategically sophisticated than undergraduates and play for higher stakes, making them more likely to adopt equilibrium strategies when making real decisions. We address these objections with theoretical critiques and experimental tests. We recruited elected officials and undergraduates to participate in experiments involving decision tasks drawn from several games foundational to formal theories of politics. We find politicians are less likely than undergraduates to behave as leading theories of political behavior and institutions predict. These results suggest that university labs are fair testbeds for game-theoretic models, and call into question the behavioral assumptions underlying many such models in political science.

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

View Abstract

How does transparency affect distributional politics? We theorize that transparency conditions how officials choose among recipient communities, compelling them to allocate to needy communities rather than those with political supporters. We present the results of a field experiment in which 333 locally elected incumbents in Malawi made a series of real and meaningful choices about the allocation of NGO-provided development goods to schools in their constituency. Prior to allocating goods to recipient school communities, half of the incumbents were informed that letters about their allocation decisions would be sent to local oversight committees who are formally empowered to liaise between citizens and the government to foster development. We find evidence suggesting that this transparency treatment caused incumbents to allocate goods to recipient school communities with greater economic need, and to allocate less to schools in politically pivotal areas; though these effects are only observed among incumbents who are knowledgeable about their communities. 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.

Knutsen, Carl Henrik, Jan Teorell, Agnes Cornell, John Gerring, Haakon Gjerlow, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Tore Wig, Daniel Ziblatt, Kyle Marquardt, Daniel Pemstein, and Brigitte Seim. “Introducing the Historical Varieties of Democracy Dataset: Political Institutions in the Long 19th Century.”

View Abstract

The Historical Varieties of Democracy Dataset (Historical V-Dem) is a new dataset containing 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 are also included in the Varieties of Democracy dataset, which covers the period from 1900 to the present – and 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, the process of coding, and the 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 provide a descriptive account of patterns of democratization in the “long 19th century.” Finally, we perform an empirical investigation of how inter-state war relates to subsequent democratization.

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.”

View Abstract

Recent work suggests that crowdworkers can replace experts and trained coders in common coding tasks. However, this research has primarily focused on the substitutability of crowd workers who code researcher-curated text, and does not explore heterogeneity in substitutability across coding tasks. To address potential over-generalization, we introduce a typology of data-producing actors – experts, coders, and crowds – and hypothesize factors which affect the substitutability of crowd workers for coders and experts. We use this typology to guide a comparison of crowd, coder, and expert- produced data. Our results suggest scope conditions bounding the substitutability of crowd workers, particularly when they code complex or unobservable phenomena typically handled by experts.

Marquardt, Kyle, Daniel Pemstein, Yi-ting Wang, and Brigitte Seim. “What Makes Experts Reliable? Expert Reliability and the Estimation of Latent Traits.”

View Abstract

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. Such exploration is valuable for both model validation and expert recruitment and retention. Here we analyze expert reliability in a cross-national panel dataset, V-Dem v8. We aggregate expert-coded data with a modified ordinal IRT model, parameterizing expert reliability. We examine a variety of potential correlates of these expert reliability parameters and, with several exceptions, find little evidence that expert characteristics greatly influence their reliability. This finding reinforces arguments that IRT models are a safe way to aggregate expert-coded data. However, there is evidence that attentive and confident experts who have basic contextual knowledge of democracy are more reliable.

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

View Abstract

Theory predicts democracy should reduce corruption. Yet, numerous scholars have found empirically that corruption decreases at high levels of democracy but actually increases at low levels. A key 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. Our argument describes how components of democracy affect costs and benefits of engaging in different types of corruption and, therefore, the level of corruption overall. Using Varieties of Democracy data, we examine 173 countries from 1900 to 2012 and find results consistent with our argument: 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. Together these six relationships form the inverted curvilinear relationship between corruption and democracy.

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

View Abstract

Social scientists face the challenge of assessing the quality (validity and reliability) of their data in the absence of concrete guidelines. While stand-alone assessment tools exist, they are rarely unified to provide a comprehensive assessment process. Further, limited guidance exists as to how to incorporate the findings of such an assessment in subsequent substantive research. This paper delineates a three-component practical approach to data quality assessment that integrates complementary tools to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a dataset: 1) assessing content validity with qualitative and quantitative tools; 2) evaluating the validity and reliability of the data generating process; and 3) assessing convergent validity using case studies and comprehensive statistical comparisons across measures. We apply our quality assessment approach to the corruption measures from the Varieties of Democracy project. We unearth several drawbacks of the V-Dem corruption measures as well as several strengths.

Seim, Brigitte and Amanda Robinson. “Coethnicity and Corruption: Field Experimental Evidence from Public Officials in Malawi”

View Abstract

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.