Research

Peer Reviewed Articles

Information Manipulation and Reform in Authoritarian Regimes
with Jidong Chen. Political Science Research and Methods , First View (Online), June 2015.
We develop a theory of how an authoritarian regime interactively uses information manipulation, such as propaganda or censorship, and policy improvement to maintain social stability. The government can depict the status quo policy more popularly supported than it actually is, while at the same time please citizens directly by enacting a costly reform. We show that the government's ability of making policy concessions reduces its incentive to manipulate information and improves its credibility. Anticipating a higher chance of policy concessions and less information manipulation, citizens are more likely to believe the government-provided information and support the regime. Our model provides an explanation for the puzzling fact that reform coexists with selective information disclosure in authoritarian countries like China. [PDF, Slides]

 

Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China
with Jidong Chen and Jennifer Pan. American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).
Scholars have established that authoritarian regimes exhibit responsiveness to citizens, but our knowledge of why autocrats respond remains limited. We theorize that responsiveness may stem from rules of the institutionalized party regime, citizen engagement, and a strategy of preferential treatment of a narrow group of supporters. We test the implications of our theory using an online experiment among 2,103 Chinese counties. At baseline, we find that approximately one third of county level governments are responsive to citizen demands expressed online. Threats of collective action and threats of tattling to upper levels of government cause county governments to be considerably more responsive. However, while threats of collective action cause local officials more publicly responsive, threats of tattling do not have this effect. We also find that identifying as loyal, long-standing members of the Communists Party does not increase responsiveness. [PDF, Slides]

 

Informal Institutions, Collective Action, and Public Goods Expenditure in Rural China
with Yang Yao. American Political Science Review, Vol. 109, No. 2, pp. 371-91, May 2015.
Do informal institutions, rules and norms created and enforced by social groups, promote good local governance in environments of weak democratic or bureaucratic institutions? This question is difficult to answer because of challenges in defining and measuring informal institutions and identifying their causal effects. In the paper, we investigate the effect of lineage groups, one of the most important vehicles of informal institutions in rural China, on local public goods expenditure. Using a panel dataset of 220 Chinese villages from 1986 to 2005, we find that village leaders from the two largest family clans increased local public investment considerably. This association is stronger when the clans appeared to be more cohesive. We also find that clans helped local leaders overcome the collective action problem of financing public goods, but there is little evidence suggesting that they held local leaders accountable. [PDF, Full Version]

 

ebalance: A Stata Package for Entropy Balancing
with Jens Hainmueller. Journal of Statistical Software, Vol. 54, Iss. 7, August 2013.
The Stata package ebalance implements entropy balancing, a multivariate reweighting method described in Hainmueller (2011) that allows users to reweight a dataset such that the covariate distributions in the reweighted data satisfy a set of speci ed moment conditions. This can be useful to create balanced samples in observational studies with a binary treatment where the control group data can be reweighted to match the covariate moments in the treatment group. Entropy balancing can also be used to reweight a survey sample to known characteristics from a target population. [PDF, Software&Data, Replication Script]

Working Papers

The Policy Effects of the Partisan Composition of State Government
with Devin Caughey and Chris Warshaw.
How much does it matter which party controls the government? On one hand, campaign positions and roll-call records suggest that contemporary American parties are very ideologically polarized. On the other hand, the existing evidence that electing Democrats into office causes the adoption of more liberal policies is surprisingly weak. We bring clarity to this debate with the aid of a new measure of the policy liberalism of each state in each year 1936-2014, using regression-discontinuity and dynamic panel analyses to estimate the policy effects of the partisan composition of state legislatures and governorships. We find that until the 1980s, partisan control of state government had negligible effects on the liberalism of state policies, but that since then partisan effects have grown markedly. Even today, however, the policy effects of partisan composition remain small relative to differences between states---less than one-tenth of the cross-sectional standard deviation of state policy liberalism. This suggests that campaign positions and roll-call records may overstate the policy effects of partisan selection relative to other factors, such as public opinion. [PDF]

 

Generalized Synthetic Control Method for Causal Inference with Time-Series Cross-Sectional Data
Difference-in-differences (DID) is commonly used for causal inference in time-series cross-sectional data. It requires the assumption that the average outcomes of treated and control units would have followed parallel paths in the absence of treatment. In this paper, I propose a method that not only relaxes this often-violated assumption, but also unifies the synthetic control method (Abadie, Diamond and Hainmueller 2010) with linear fixed effect models under a simple framework, of which DID is a special case. It imputes counterfactuals for each treated unit in post-treatment periods using control group information based on a linear interactive fixed effect model that incorporates unit-specific intercepts interacted with time-varying coefficients. This method has several advantages. First, it allows the treatment to be correlated with unobserved unit and time heterogeneities under reasonable modelling assumptions. Second, it generalizes the synthetic control method to the case of multiple treated units and variable treatment periods, and improves efficiency and interpretability. Third, with a built-in cross-validation procedure, it avoids specification searches and thus is transparent and easy to implement. Monte Carlo results show that this method performs well with small numbers of control units and pre-treatment periods. An empirical example of Election Day Registration and voter turnout in the United States is provided. [Award, PDF]

 

China's Ideological Spectrum
with Jennifer Pan.
We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization---provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers. [PDF,Data]

Media Coverage: NYT, WSJ, FP, ChinaFile

 

Making Democracy Work: Culture, Social Capital and Elections in China
with Gerard Padro-i-Miquel, Nancy Qian and Yang Yao. NBER Working Paper No. 21058.
This paper aims to show that culture is an important determinant of the effectiveness of formal democratic institutions, such as elections. We collect new data to document the presence of voluntary and social organizations and the history of electoral reforms in Chinese villages. We use the presence of village temples to proxy for culture, or more specifically, for social (civic) capital. The results show that villages with temples experience much larger increases in public goods after the introduction of elections. Additional results rule out obvious alternative interpretations and suggest that generalized trust enhances village public goods provision, while personalized trust does not. [PDF]

 

On Deliberative Authoritarian Governance
with Jidong Chen.
Why would an authoritarian regime set up deliberative institutions to allow people to complain publicly if, as is often presumed, complaints facilitate protests and cause social instability? We argue that deliberation is a process of hierarchical communication not only between the government and the citizens, but also among the citizens. We show that deliberation serves two functions. First, it helps the government respond to fluctuating public opinion. Second, it can also help to reshape the citizens' beliefs. Specifically, deliberation disorganizes citizens if they find themselves split over government policies. However, if deliberation reveals that a protest can be successful, the government identifies the danger, and improves the policy to appease the opposition. When the citizens are perceived to be sufficiently homogeneous, deliberation is allowed. We further investigate two deliberative mechanisms that combine a private poll with either a committed responsiveness or a censorship strategy. To achieve the best possible payoff in both mechanisms, the government needs to constrain itself from over-manipulating citizens' learning, thus amplifying the disorganization effect. [PDF]

 

Outspoken Insiders: Who Complains About the Government in Authoritarian China?
with Lily L. Tsai.
Are political insiders or outsiders more likely to complain about local government performance in nondemocratic and one-party systems? In this paper, we identify political connections as an important resource for expressing complaints about government performance in a context where governmental transparency is limited and risks of reprisal are high. Using data from both urban and rural China, we find that, although political insiders are not more dissatisfied with public services than ordinary citizens, they are more likely to contact authorities with complaints about government performance. This is likely because they have better access to authorities, more information about how the system works, and some degree of political protection. We also show that under certain conditions it is formal party membership that provides these resources, while at other times it is informal personal relationships that play a key role. A comparison of urban and rural China suggests that the importance of formal vs. informal political connections depends on the degree of institutional isomorphism between formal political institutions and local administration. [PDF]

Work in Progress

Awakening Leviathan: the Effect of Democratization on State Capacity, 1960-2009 (with Erik H. Wang).

The Grand Canal, Communism, and Modern Economic Performance: A Study on the Persistence of Economic Activity in China, 1000-2012 A.D. (with Nancy Qian).

The Emergence of Chinese Urban System: Courier Routes and Population Divergence, 1500-2010 (with Ming Lu).