Who are political elites in a modern, autocratizing authoritarian regime? What role do officials' appointment schemes or the use of authoritarian elections play in determining elites' quality, behavior, and incentives? And finally, what factor does an autocrat need to consider when deciding how to manage the elite officials below him or her? These are some of the questions co-authors and I tackle in a series of papers on authoritarian elites in Russia and other post-Soviet contexts.
- “Performance Incentives under Autocracy: Evidence from Russia’s Regions” (with Ora John Reuter). Accepted for publication in Comparative Politics.
- Available evidence indicates that there is considerable variation among autocracies in the extent to which subnational officials are rewarded for economic growth. Why is economic performance used as a criterion for appointment in some autocracies but not in others? Using data on turnover among high-level economic bureaucrats in Russia’s 89 regions between 2001 and 2012, we find that performance-based appointments are more frequent in less competitive regions. In more competitive--though still autocratic--regions, the political imperatives of maintaining a political machine that can win semi-competitive elections may lead regime leaders to abandon cadre policies that promote economic development.
- “Local Elections in Authoritarian Regimes: An Elite-Based Theory with Evidence from Russian Mayoral Elections” (with Ora John Reuter, Alexandra Shubenkova, and Guzel Garifullina). Comparative Political Studies, April 2016.
- Elections serve a variety of functions in authoritarian regimes, yet scholars are divided on the question of why regime leaders permit elections in some settings but not in others. We argue that autocrats use subnational elections to co-opt and assuage powerful subnational elites. When subnational elites control significant political resources, such as political machines or personal power bases, leaders may need to co-opt them in order to govern cost-effectively. Elections are an effective tool of cooptation because they provide elites with some modicum of autonomy and the opportunity to cultivate their own independent power bases. We test this argument by analyzing variation in the decision to hold direct mayoral elections in Russia’s 207 largest cities between 2000 and 2012. These analyses are conducted on an original dataset of Russian mayors collected by the authors. Our findings indicate that the decision to hold elections has more to do with elite co-optation than it does with assuaging social demands for representation. Our findings also illustrate how subnational elections may actually serve to perpetuate authoritarianism by helping to ensure elite loyalty and putting the resources of powerful elites to work for the regime.
- “The Political Economy of Russian Gubernatorial Elections and Appointments” (with Timothy Frye, Ora John Reuter, and Guzel Garifullina). Europe-Asia Studies 66:8, October 2014.
- Political and economic outcomes depend, in part, on the quality of the officials making policy. Many scholars argue that the free and fair elections are the best method for selecting competent officials. Others, however, argue that elections can lead to the selection of amateurs, demagogues, and political sycophants. Under this view, sub-national officials should be appointed by centralized planners who are insulated from local popular pressures. In this paper, we use original data on the biographies of Russian regional governors to determine whether the backgrounds of governors elected between 1992 and 2004 differ from the backgrounds of appointed governors post-2004. We find that the two groups are surprisingly similar on many dimensions. Elected and appointed governors have similar career backgrounds, ages, educational profiles, and ethnicities. But there are some important differences as well. Elected governors, are more likely to have held elected office and be from the region where they serve. Appointed governors are also more likely to be federal bureaucrats, hold a graduate degree, and have education in economics. Finding that the selection mechanism explains only a small portion of the variance in governor backgrounds, we conclude the paper by speculating on other possible explanations for variation in governor background.
- “Elections, Appointments, and Human Capital: The Case of Russian Mayors” (with Guzel Garifullina, Ora John Reuter, and Alexandra Shubenkova). Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 22:1, Winter 2014.
- A growing body of literature suggests that the personal characteristics of public officials have an effect on policy outcomes. But scholars differ as to which of the two primary methods for selecting public officials – elections and appointments – are more likely to produce high quality officials. Using original data on the backgrounds of Russian mayors between 2000 and 2012, we examine how the biographies of elected and appointed mayors differ. We find that differences between the two types of officials are modest, but noteworthy. On the one hand, elected mayors have more experience holding elected office and are more educated, which could indicate that they are of higher quality. Moreover, elected mayors turn over at a much lower rate, which indicates lower levels of political instability. Yet appointed mayors have more executive governing experience and are less likely to come from business backgrounds, which may indicate that elections provide more opportunities for business capture. Overall, our findings indicate that Russia’s flawed elections may be a double-edged sword when it comes to the selection of quality officials.
Papers Under Review and Conference Papers
- “Dissension in the Ranks: Dissent and Loyalty in a Competitive Authoritarian Parliament” (with David Szakonyi)
- Though numerous works connect autocratic parliaments and specific policy outcomes, little is known about actual behavior of deputies in these institutions. Why do ruling party members sometimes vote against legislation initiated by the party? How does the autocratizing party ensure voting discipline in the ranks? By examining the case of the competitive authoritarian Georgian state just after the Rose Revolution, we argue that these puzzles are key to understanding the autocrat’s information problem so detrimental to consolidation: who to trust with official positions. Autocratic legislatures allow for the vetting of regime elites, an undertheorized but additionally important function of authoritarian legislatures, especially within a new and weakly institutionalized regime. We test these theories with an original and unique dataset of 1500 bills compiled from over four years of voting records from the 2004-2008 session of the Georgian parliament. We combine data from these voting records with MP biographies to test theories of dissent and promotion during this regime-building stage.
- Presented at AAASS 2011.