Peer Reviewed Articles

[8] China's Ideological Spectrum
with Jennifer Pan. The Journal of Politics , forthcoming.

The study of ideology in authoritarian regimes---of how public preferences are configured and constrained---has received relatively little scholarly attention. Using data from a large-scale online survey, we study ideology in China. We find that public preferences are weakly constrained, and the configuration of preferences is multi-dimensional, but the latent traits of these dimensions are highly correlated. Those who prefer authoritarian rule are more likely to support nationalism, state intervention in the economy, and traditional social values; those who prefer democratic institutions and values are less likely to be nationalistic or support traditional social values but more likely to support market reforms. This latter set of preferences appears more in provinces with higher levels of development and among wealthier and better educated respondents. These findings suggest preferences are not simply split along a pro-regime or anti-regime cleavage, and indicate a possible link between China's economic reform and societal cleavages. [Pre-print, Replication Material (130M), Data Source, Slides]

Media Coverage: NYT, WSJ, FP, ChinaFile


[7] Incremental Democracy: The Policy Effects of the Partisan Composition of State Government
with Devin Caughey and Chris Warshaw. The Journal of Politics, forthcoming.
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]


[6] Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Allow Citizens to Voice Opinions Publicly?
with Jidong Chen. The Journal of Politics, forthcoming.
Why would an authoritarian regime allow citizens to voice opinions publicly if the exchange of information among citizens spurs social instability as has been often alleged? In this paper, we develop a game theoretic model and show that an authoritarian regime can strengthen its rule by allowing citizens to communicate with each other publicly. From the government’s perspective, such communication has two interrelated functions. First, if public communication reveals a shared feeling of dissatisfaction towards government policies among the citizens, the government will detect the danger and improve policies accordingly. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, public communication disorganizes the citizens if they find themselves in disagreement over the policies. We show that the government allows public communication if and only if it perceives sufficient heterogeneity in preferences among the citizens. The model also illustrates that public communication could serve as a commitment device ensuring government responsiveness when it faces high dissatisfaction, which in turn makes the government better off than with private polling. [PDF]


[5] Generalized Synthetic Control Method: Causal Inference with Interactive Fixed Effects Models
Political Analysis, Vol. 25, Iss. 1, January 2017, pp. 57-76.

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. An empirical example of Election Day Registration and voter turnout in the United States is provided. [Post-print, Pre-Print, Replication Files, Software]

-- Awarded the 2014 John T. Williams Dissertation Prize for the best disseration proposal in political methodology.


[4] Information Manipulation and Reform in Authoritarian Regimes
with Jidong Chen. Political Science Research and Methods, Vol. 5, Iss. 1, January 2017, pp. 163-178.
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. [Post-print, Pre-print, Slides]


[3] Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China
with Jidong Chen and Jennifer Pan. American Journal of Political Science , Vol. 60, Iss. 2, pp. 383-400, April 2016.

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. [Post-Print, Pre-print, Slides, Summary, 中文摘要]

-- Awarded AJPS Best Paper 2016. "The paper is extremely well written and accessible to a wide audience in political science, it is very well cited already and can and will inspire future research in this area."



[2] 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. [Post-print, Pre-print, Slides]


[1] 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. [Post-print, Software&Data, Replication Script]

Working Papers

How Much Should We Trust Estimates from Multiplicative Interaction Models? Simple Tools to Improve Empirical Practice
with Jens Hainmueller and Jonathan Mummolo.
Regressions with multiplicative interaction terms are widely used in the social sciences to test whether the relationship between an outcome and an independent variable changes depending on a moderating variable. Despite much advice on how to use interaction models, two important problems are currently overlooked in empirical practice. First, multiplicative interaction models are based on the crucial assumption that the interaction effect is linear, which fails unless the effect of the independent variable changes at a constant rate with the moderator. Second, reliably estimating the effect of the independent variable at a given value of the moderator requires sufficient common support. Replicating nearly 50 interaction effects recently published in five top political science journals, we find that these core assumptions fail in a majority of cases, suggesting that a large portion of findings based on multiplicative interaction models are artifacts of misspecification or are at best highly model dependent. We propose simple diagnostic tests to assess the validity of these assumptions and offer flexible modeling strategies for estimating potentially nonlinear interaction effects. [SSRN, Paper, Supplementary Information, Software]


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

Although researchers have often considered democracy and state capacity to be key predictors of cross-national variations in human welfare, few have investigated the relationship between the two variables themselves. We argue that democratization may have a positive, causal effect on state capacity. Employing a time-series cross-national dataset from 1960 to 2009, we document that democratization leads to a substantial increase in state capacity in the long run. Our results prove robust to a rich set of potential confounders and alternative coding of key variables. To further address the problem of endogeneity, we use an instrumental variable strategy that exploits exogenous variations in regional democratic diffusions. We also provide suggestive evidence that democratization enhances state capacity through increasing political contestation. [PDF]

-- Awarded the 2015 Malcolm Jewell Award for the best graduate student paper presented at the SPSA annual meeting.


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]


Outspoken Insiders: Political Connections and Citizen Participation in Authoritarian China
with Lily L. Tsai.

Given widespread perceptions of risk and uncertainty in nondemocratic systems and developing democracies, why do some citizens still take action and make complaints to authorities? The resource mobilization model identifies the importance of time, money, and civic skills as resources that are necessary for participation. In this paper we build on this model and argue that political connections – close personal ties to someone working in government – can also constitute a critical resource, especially in contexts with weak democratic institutions. Using data from both urban and rural China, we find that individuals with political connections are more likely to contact authorities with complaints about government public services, despite the fact that they do not have higher levels of dissatisfaction with public service provision. We conduct various robustness checks, including a sensitivity analysis, and show that this relationship is unlikely to be driven by an incorrect model specification or unobserved confounding variables. [PDF]


Work in Progress

Measuring Ideoglogy Using Social Media Data.