Publications in 2016

Hellmeier, Sebastian. "The Dictator's Digital Toolkit: Explaining Variation in Internet Filtering in Authoritarian Regimes"

Politics & Policy 44(6) 

Following its global diffusion during the last decade, the Internet was expected to become a liberation technology and a threat for autocratic regimes by facilitating collective action. Recently, however, autocratic regimes took control of the Internet and filter online content. Building on the literature concerning the political economy of repression, this article argues that regime characteristics, economic conditions, and conflict in bordering states account for variation in Internet filtering levels among autocratic regimes. Using OLS-regression, the article analyzes the determinants of Internet filtering as measured by the Open Net Initiative in 34 autocratic regimes. The results show that monarchies, regimes with higher levels of social unrest, regime changes in neighboring countries, and less oppositional competition in the political arena are more likely to filter the Internet. The article calls for a systematic data collection to analyze the causal mechanisms and the temporal dynamics of Internet filtering. 

Nisser, Annerose and Nils B. Weidmann. "Measuring Ethnic Preferences in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Mobile Advertising"

PLOS ONE 11(12): e0167779

We present a field experiment that uses geo-referenced smartphone advertisements to measure ethnic preferences at a highly disaggregated level. Different types of banners advertising a vote matching tool are randomly displayed to mobile Internet users in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while recording their spatial coordinates. Differences in the response (click) rate to different ethnic cues on these banners are used to measure temporal and spatial variation in ethnic preferences among the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our study lays out the theoretical and practical underpinnings of this technology and discusses its potential for future applications, but also highlights limitations of this approach. 

Weidmann, Nils B. "Replication: Why, Where and How? A Synopsis"

International Studies Perspectives 17(4) 

What is the main motivation for replication in International Relations? How can we implement it, and who is in charge? With a variety of proposals put forward by the contributors to this special issue, it seems useful to provide a synopsis. This article does so by asking a set of key questions related to replication, and by summarizing the stance each proposal takes with respect to these questions. This comparison reveals that there are fewer disagreements than we would think: there is a broad consensus when it comes to the motivation and need for replication in our field. However, proposals diverge as to how replication should be best implemented, and to a lesser extent, who should be the driving force behind this. The article concludes with a recommendation for a dual strategy. First, simple replication on the journal side should be implemented as a routine quality check to weed out work that does not even satisfy basic replication standards. Second, journals should be encouraged to allow publication of more comprehensive, in-depth replication studies with an independent contribution. 

Weidmann, Nils B. "Micro-cleavages and Violence in Civil Wars: A Computational Assessment" 

Conflict Management and Peace Science 33(5) 

Many accounts of civil war violence assume that a conflict's master cleavage also explains the local occurrence of violence. Some scholars, however, have argued that violence is often the result of local cleavages and feuds, many of which may be unrelated to the conflict's master cleavage. How is local violence related to the conflict's master cleavage? Using a computational model, this paper studies an alliance mechanism proposed by Kalyvas (2006), where macro actors support local ones that fight on their behalf. While these alliances create a principal-agent problem, the model shows that they can raise the overall severity of the conflict and serve the interests of the macro actor. However, the model also shows that these mechanisms work only under limited conditions. Alliances can increase the level of violence perpetrated in the interest of the macro actor, but only if (i) the latter supports agents which have in the past fought along the master cleavage and (ii) if this happens in rural areas, which emphasizes again the importance of the rural dimension in the study of civil war.  

Weidmann, Nils B., Suso Benitez-Baleato, Philipp Hunziker, Eduard Glatz and Xenofontas Dimitropoulos. "Digital Discrimination: Political Bias in Internet Service Provision across Ethnic Groups."

Science 353(6304)  [HTML]  [PDF] 

The global expansion of the Internet is frequently associated with increased government transparency, political rights, and democracy. However, this assumption depends on marginalized groups getting access in the first place. Here we document a strong and persistent political bias in the allocation of Internet coverage across ethnic groups worldwide. Using estimates of Internet penetration obtained through network measurements, we show that politically excluded groups suffer from significantly lower Internet penetration rates compared with those in power, an effect that cannot be explained by economic or geographic factors. Our findings underline one of the central impediments to "liberation technology," which is that governments still play a key role in the allocation of the Internet and can, intentionally or not, sabotage its liberating effects. 

Wig, Tore and Espen Geelmuyden Rød. "Cues to Coup Plotters: Elections as Coup Triggers in Dictatorships"

Journal of Conflict Resolution 60(5) 

A large proportion of coup attempts in autocracies occur in the aftermath of elections, yet little systematic research exists on the topic. Drawing on recent literature on elections in autocracies, we present an argument to explain post-election coups. While we recognize that electoral institutions have the potential to stabilize autocracies, we illustrate that the election event can spark instability when incumbents reveal electoral weakness. Electoral outcomes - in the form of vote shares and opposition reactions - are signals containing information about the strength of the opposition, and indirectly about the likelihood of a successful full-scale revolution which would compromise the privileged positions of regime elites. In these situations, coups are likely to be initiated to avoid a revolution, either by serving as concessions to the opposition, or by facilitating increased repression. We perform a large-N study that supports our argument, significantly nuancing the claim that elections stabilize autocracies. 

Basedau, Matthias, Brite Pfeiffer and Johannes Vüllers. "Bad Religion? Religion, Collective Action, and the Onset of Armed Conflict in Developing Countries."

Journal of Conflict Resolution 60(2)

Anecdotal evidence from many armed conflicts suggests that religion incites violence. Theoretically speaking, several facets of religion can create motives and opportunities to overcome the collective action problems associated with organized violence. However, empirical research has hitherto found no conclusive answer on the extent to which religion is connected to armed conflict onset. Contributing to the filling of this gap, we use a new database that incorporates important religious factors that previous studies left largely untested. The data set covers 130 devel- oping countries for the period 1990 to 2010. Results from logistic regressions confirm our expectation that certain religious factors fuel armed conflict—in par- ticular, the overlap of religious and other identities, religious groups’ grievances, and religious leaders’ calls for violence. We also find that religious determinants vary in their impact according to whether conflicts are religious or not in origin. 

Weidmann, Nils B. "A Closer Look at Reporting Bias in Conflict Event Data."

American Journal of Political Science 60(1)

Recent data collections about political violence are frequently based on media-based event reports, which can lead to reporting bias. This is an issue in particular for the emergent literature on communication technology and conflict, since this technology may not only affect violence, but also the reporting about it. Using the effect of cellphones on violence as an example, this article presents a quantitative assessment of reporting bias in a micro-level analysis. Comparing media-based event reports and those from military sources, the results show that the purported violence-increasing effect of cellphone coverage is partly due to higher reporting rates of violence in cellphone-covered areas. A simple diagnostic procedure for this problem is implemented. Applied to the analysis of cellphones and violence in Africa, it produces a pattern that is consistent with reporting bias driving much of the effect found in the Pierskalla and Hollenbach (2013) study about this topic. 

Lutscher, Philipp M. "The More Fragmented the Better?—The Impact of Armed Forces Structure on Defection during Nonviolent Popular Uprisings."

International Interactions 42(2)

Authoritarian regimes frequently employ fragmentation to safeguard themselves against coups and reduce the power of the military apparatus. This article investigates the impact of structural coup-proofing in the setting of a nonviolent popular uprising that threatens the regime and its survival. It is argued that in such settings fragmentation can have unintentional consequences with respect to the question whether the army fulfills orders of repression or defects. If the security apparatus is highly divided, some armed organizations will seize the opportunity to defect and side with the protesters because the efficiency of counterbalancing decreases if more effective armed organizations are involved. This can be mainly explained through collective action problems that the security apparatus faces in such a setting. This article compiles data of nonviolent uprisings from 1975 to 2006 and data on armed forces structure for conducting a multivariate probit regression on the probability of defection. The findings indeed show a U-shaped relationship between armed forces fragmentation and the likelihood of defection during nonviolent mass uprisings. While security apparatuses with around two effective armed organizations display only a low probability of defection, minimally and highly fragmented forces indicate higher chances of defection from the ruling regime.