Research Projects

Poisoning Your Own Well: Misinformation and Voter Polarization in India (with Ursula Daxecker)

Politicians and parties frequently sponsor and amplify misinformation. We develop a supply-side perspective on misinformation, departing from current emphasis on platforms or demand-side explanations. We argue that the efficacy of misinformation depends on whether it activates partisan or social cleavages. If voters process misinformation along partisan lines, only core supporters of the misinformation producer become more polarized. If misinformation, on the other hand, operates along voters’ social identities, politicians can gain new supporters from spreading misinformation. Our empirical analysis is based on a pre-registered vignette experiment embedded in a representative survey conducted after West Bengal’s 2021 elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to polarize voters on issues of religion, which we mimic in our experimental design. We find that misinformation was largely ineffective; reinforcing partisan cleavages rather than cutting across them, and persuading only BJP supporters to support Hindu majoritarianism. Moreover, even BJP voters reverted back to secularism after being exposed to corrections.

Inequality & Vote Share: Comparing Elite and Non-Elite Group Parties in India (with H. Zeynep Bulutgil)

What is the relationship between economic inequality and ethnic party success? The paper uses subnational data from India to tackle this question. We develop a theoretical framework that takes into account the distinct distributional considerations within elite and non-elite ethnic groups. Our findings show that the nature of the relationship depends on the type of group and and the type of inequality in question. Specifically, we show that within group inequality boosts the chances of elite ethnic group parties while decreasing the chances of non-elite ethnic group parties. We also confirm the conventional expectation that high between group inequality increases support for ethnic parties.

Ethnic Inequality, Cross-Cutting Cleavages, and Electoral Stability in India (with Francesca Jensenius and Pavithra Suryanaryan)

Existing literature predicts higher electoral stability in ethnically divided societies. However, empirically we observe the opposite, higher instability in many multi-ethnic contexts. Using evidence from India, we account for the existence of high instability in a ethnically heterogeneous democracy. We find that cross-cuttingness between social and economic divisions increases instability by boosting electoral volatility and anti-incumbent voting. We argue that when ethnic groups are distinct economically, there is lower electoral instability for two related reasons. First, vote choices tend to be rigid and voters are less likely to change their vote from one election to another. Second, party—candidate linkages are likely to be stronger and candidates are less likely to switch party affiliation or parties are less likely to change candidates between successive elections. To test our arguments, we use data on elections to state legislatures for the time period 1987 to 2007. We estimate inequality and cross-cuttingness using data on consumption, identity, and occupation from the National Sample Surveys.

Inequality in Access to Public Goods in India (with Asli Demirguc-Kunt and Leora Klapper)

This project spans two papers. Measuring the Effectiveness of Service Delivery : Delivery of Government Provided Goods and Services in India. Abstract: This paper uses new survey data to measure the government’s capacity to deliver goods and services in a manner that includes: high coverage of the population; equal access; and high quality of service delivery. The paper finds variation in these indicators across and within Indian states. Overall: (i) access to government provided goods and services is low — about 60 percent of the surveyed population are unable to apply for goods and services they self-report needing; (ii) inequality in access is high — women and poor adults are more likely to report an inability to apply for goods and services they need; and (iii) less than a third of the respondents who did manage to apply for a government delivered good or service found the application process to be easy. Access can be improved by reducing application costs and processing times, simplifying the application process, and providing alternative channels to receive applications.

How Unequal Access to Public Goods Reinforces Horizontal Inequality in India. This paper uses data from the National Sample Survey from 1993 to 2012 to measure inequality between caste and religion based groups in India. It measures inequality in consumption, living conditions, educational attainment, health, and occupational-status. It finds that group-based inequality is multidimensional and persistent. It then uses new survey data to measure in-equality in access to following government provided goods and services: public schools, healthcare, utilities (water, electricity, gas), identity cards (voter ID, aadhaar), issuance of driving license, and registration of land or property. It shows that unequal access to government provided goods and services reinforces, reproduces, and exacerbates the unequal social and economic structure of India.