My research focuses on authoritarian politics, aiming to understand the conditions and institutions that enable dictatorships to flourish and grow more centralized. I take an institutional approach to comparative authoritarianism, and have a regional specialty in the Middle East.

Trajectories of Consolidation

My book project, focuses on the strategies dictators employ to accumulate personal power. I develop a theoretical framework of leaders’ strategy space that draws from qualitative cases across the Middle East and Southeast Asia. To support this framework, I model these strategies as states using a Markov chain model to assess how dictators’ strategies evolve in response to the strength of elite constraints.

Working Papers

  • The costs of collective action: an experimental study of risk, punishment, and immunity with David Siegel Conditionally Accepted at Journal of Politics

Abstract: Despite the centrality of collective action to the social sciences, we know relatively little as to how individuals process uncertain future costs of participation. We offer a formal model of collective action that incorporates punishment: with some probability, an individual might suffer a cost for having participated. Some individuals, however, are immune to punishment. Our model thus applies to group behavior in contexts from state repression to social sanction. We test our model’s predictions in a laboratory experiment, finding robust support for our hypotheses. Only those not immune to punishment reduce their participation as the likelihood and cost of punishment rises. The non-immune also participate less the more others in their group are immune, even though immune individuals do not always participate. Competing safety-in-numbers and free-riding incentives imply group size plays a more complex role in collective action than often assumed, affecting the immune and non-immune differently.

  • Playing the long game: Authoritarian Consolidation despite Elite Constraints

Abstract: According to leading explanations for the emergence of personalist leaders, the success of leaders in consolidating power is a result of the failure of elites to constrain and stop them. However, this fails to account for the emergence of authoritarian leaders even in the face of established power structures and strong elites, and ignores the strategic choices of leaders. I propose an alternative mechanism: rather than being the failure of elites, the successful consolidation of leaders is possible due to a gradual strategy of piecemeal power seizures, a process which I term the logic of strategic path dependence. Dictators utilize sequential strategies, each furthering immediate aims while enabling potent future moves, akin to advancing towards a checkmate in chess. To show evidence of strategic path dependence, I develop a framework of three main strategies of consolidation used by leaders to accumulate and create a novel dataset of 386 authoritarian leaders and their use of consolidation over the time period of 1946 to 2004. Using a Markov transition model, my analysis reveals obvious path dependence between strategies used by leaders, more than can be attributed solely to external contextual factors.

  • Youth Wings as a Source of Authoritarian Party Strength

Abstract: Accounts of authoritarian parties suggest that dictators use the party machine to mobilize mass support and obtain supermajoritarian electoral results to deter elite rivals from competing outside the party, though empirical evaluation of this function has been limited. I suggest an additional mechanism of mass mobilization by authoritarian parties: dictators strategically mobilize their supporters to increase the perceived costs of, and therefore the risks of, an organized military coup. I test this by identifying a party institution that authoritarian parties adopt explicitly for mass mobilization - youth wings. Using original data on youth wings in 200 authoritarian parties, I find support for the argument that youth wings reduce coup attempts through the threat of pro-regime mass mobilization events. I find little support for the alternate explanation that youth wings could be used to co-opt military officers and reduce their incentives to organize coups.

  • Why Complete Voting Tallies Are Sometimes Not Published

Abstract: I argue that while election monitoring in its infancy may have had signalling benefits that incentivised partially democratic governments to signal democratic credibility by publishing complete vote tallies, the growing ubiquity of election monitoring may actually negate these positive benefits. As the certainty of election monitoring increases with the diffusion of the norm, pseudo-democrats may no longer find it strategic to take the extra step of publishing complete vote tallies to signal ’democracy’.

Selected Research in Progress

  • Does authoritarian consolidation pause in times of conflict?

  • Trajectories of power-sharing and power-consolidating.