Rosenfeld, Bryn. 2021. "State Dependency and the Limits of Middle Class Support for Democracy." Comparative Political Studies 54(3-4): 411-444. [Download Paper][Replication Archive]
Scholars have long viewed the middle class as an agent of democratization. This paper provides the first rigorous cross-national analysis of middle class regime preference, systematically investigating the importance of an authoritarian state's economic relationship with the middle class. Using detailed survey data on individual employment histories from 27 post-communist countries, I show that, under autocracy, state-sector careers diminish support for democracy, especially among middle class professionals. The results are robust to changes in the measurement of both the middle class and democracy support. I also show that neither selection nor response bias, redistributive preferences, communist socialization, or transition experiences can explain the results. The findings imply that a state-supported middle class may, in fact, delay democratization.
Scholars increasingly rely on indirect questioning techniques to reduce social desirability bias and item nonresponse for sensitive survey questions. The major drawback of these approaches, however, is their inefficiency relative to direct questioning. We show how to improve the statistical analysis of the list experiment, randomized response technique, and endorsement experiment by exploiting auxiliary information on the sensitive trait. We apply the proposed methodology to survey experiments conducted among voters in a controversial anti-abortion referendum held during the 2011 Mississippi General Election. By incorporating the official county-level election results, we obtain precinct- and individual-level estimates that are more accurate than standard indirect questioning estimates and occasionally even more efficient than direct questioning. Our simulation studies shed light on the conditions under which our approach can improve efficiency and robustness of estimates based on indirect questioning techniques. Open-source software is available for implementing the proposed methodology.
While a large literature recognizes that economic crises threaten the stability of electoral autocracies, we know relatively little about how citizens form economic perceptions and how they attribute blame for worsening conditions in these regimes. To gain traction on these questions, I exploit subnational variation in economic performance across Russia’s regions during a recent downturn, combining regionally representative surveys of more than 67,000 voting-age respondents with data on growth and unemployment. Contrary to conventional wisdom that citizens are passive consumers of propaganda, I show that they extract objective economic information from personal experience and local conditions. Moreover, I find that they give greater weight to this information where regional party dominance makes economic performance a clearer indicator of the ruling party’s competence and when they believe media are biased. These results suggest limits on illiberal regimes’ ability to exploit informational asymmetries to bolster popular support during economic downturns.
A large literature expects rising middle classes to promote democracy. However, few studies provide direct evidence on this group in nondemocratic settings. This article focuses on politically important internal differentiation within the middle classes, arguing that middle class growth in state-dependent sectors weakens potential coalitions in support of democratization. I test this argument using surveys conducted at mass demonstrations in Russia and detailed population data. I also present a new approach to studying protest based on case-control methods from epidemiology. The results reveal that state sector professionals were significantly less likely to mobilize against electoral fraud, even after controlling for ideology. If this group had participated at the same rate as middle class professionals from the private sector, I estimate that another 90,000 protesters would have taken to the streets. I trace these patterns of participation to the interaction of individual resources and selective incentives. These findings have implications for authoritarian stability and democratic transitions.
When studying sensitive issues such as corruption, prejudice, and sexual behavior, researchers have increasingly relied upon indirect questioning techniques to mitigate such known problems of direct survey questions as under-reporting and nonresponse. However, there have been surprisingly few empirical validation studies of these indirect techniques, because the information required to verify the resulting estimates is often difficult to access. This paper reports findings from the first comprehensive validation study of indirect methods. We estimate whether people voted for an anti-abortion referendum held during the 2011 Mississippi General Election using direct questioning and three popular indirect methods: list experiment, endorsement experiment, and randomized response. We then validate these estimates against the official election outcome. While direct questioning leads to significant under-estimation of sensitive votes against the referendum, these survey techniques yield estimates much closer to the actual vote count, with endorsement experiment and randomized response yielding least bias.
Protest Participation and Attitude Change: Evidence from Ukraine's Euromaidan Revolution (Conditionally accepted at the Journal of Politics) [Download Working Paper]
Do protests actually influence political opinions or do they merely reflect existing policy preferences? We study this issue using panel data with measures of political attitudes and behavior taken both before and after Ukraine's Euromaidan protests. We find that protests do not just reveal protesters' political views but also shape them. Participation changed protesters' policy preferences on issues related to the main protest frames, and it also increased attitude coherence on core issues. In addition, protest participants experienced significant increases in political efficacy, trust and participation compared to non-participants. We show that the mechanisms underlying these attitudinal and behavioral changes are related to the experience itself of protesting, and thus depend to an important degree on protest context. These findings speak to both the short and long-term mechanisms by which protest participation can shape political engagement and public opinion.
A Case-Control Method for Studying Protest Participation and Other Rare Events
Studies of individual protest participation confront a variety of inferential challenges. Representative surveys capture few protest participants, are biased by respondent recall, and provide only post-hoc measures of other covariates. Surveys of protesters offer a larger sample size, minimize problems of recall, and effectively verify participation. However, they have limited utility for understanding the causes of protest participation, because focusing on protesters introduces selection on the dependent variable. In this paper I show how a variant of the standard case-control design, used in individual-level rare events studies in epidemiology but ignored to date in political science, enables researchers to estimate the probability of protest as a function of individual-level characteristics. In this approach, researchers combine two distinct samples---one where the outcome is measured along with relevant covariates and the other where relevant covariates are measured but the outcome is not. After describing the statistical setup for this design, I use simulation to show that a Bayesian implementation recovers unbiased estimates. I then demonstrate its value through an application to Ukraine's EuroMaidan protests.
Independent Media in Electoral Autocracies [Download Working Paper]
A large literature recognizes growing threats to press freedom in electoral autocracies. However, few studies test how independent media under strain adjust coverage. We propose that outlets' response to state pressure evolves endogenously based on their revenue mix and incentive to pander. We test this argument with evidence from contemporary Russia. Using a corpus of 85,000 news items, we investigate how the abrupt removal of independent outlet TV Rain from television providers influenced its coverage, and content similarity with state outlet Channel 1. We find that shortly after TV Rain was disconnected from providers, its tone of government coverage improved, and that the similarity of its contents with state outlets increased. Over time, however, TV Rain became more critical. Findings, which speak to scholarship on authoritarian endurance, highlight a tradeoff in autocrats' use of intimidation. While attacks on free press may have short-term benefits, they could backfire over the long run.