Research: Articles


Empathy for the Devil: Using Counter-Stereotypical Deepfakes to Manipulate Affective Polarization and Democratic Attitudes

Affective polarization has escalated in numerous countries, prompting concerns about its detrimental effects on democratic norms. In response to this challenge, scholars have developed experimental interventions that, although successful in reducing polarization, have proven mostly ineffective in influencing democratic attitudes. Focusing on Brazil’s polarized political landscape and pioneering the use of deepfake images—fabricated images synthesized by deep learning algorithms—in political research, I demonstrate that experimental vignettes emphasizing tolerance and counter-stereotypes foster empathy toward political adversaries substantially. Furthermore, the reduction of animosity has downstream effects on support for initiatives safeguarding free and fair elections. In contrast to existing literature, this study leverages deepfakes to manipulate political views benignly, shedding light on the promises of diminishing polarization to bolster democratic attitudes. Introducing the use of AI text-to-image generators, this article also documents that deepfake images can amplify treatment effects, a finding with important implications for the design of experimental research.

Paper coming soon.

Patronage Contracting (under review)

Best Paper Award, Western Political Science Association, 2023 (best paper presented at 2022 WPSA Annual Meeting).

Outsourcing public services to private providers is heralded for increasing government efficiency. Yet, outsourcing also offers opportunities to circumvent employment regulations in the public sector. The praised flexibility that private contractors have to hire employees can also be used to hire political supporters. I call the use of outsourcing for mobilization purposes patronage contracting. By exploiting close-elections regression discontinuities across Brazilian municipalities, I show that opportunistic mayors who engage in clientelistic practices outsource not only service delivery but also patronage jobs. Moreover, I demonstrate that this effect is driven by municipalities where mayors are pressured by stronger political machines. Preregistered survey experiments with mayoral candidates further confirm these findings. This study presents a cautionary tale against the common assertion that outsourced services provide fewer opportunities for malfeasance. On the contrary, public-sector outsourcing can exacerbate government reliance on patronage appointments due to the reduced oversight of contract employees.

Paper here.

Who Turns to Clientelism? Opportunistic Politicians, Patronage Appointments, and Vote Buying in Brazil (under review)

Programmatic and clientelistic exchanges between voters and politicians coexist in many countries. Why do some politicians engage in clientelism while others do not? Existing explanations highlight economic development, political competition, and incumbency. By contrast, this study emphasizes a crucial but overlooked factor—namely, politicians’ motivations. Investigating politicians’ prior party-switching behavior, I introduce a novel empirical approach to distinguish policy-motivated from office-motivated politicians. I propose that the latter, whom I call opportunists, are more likely to engage in clientelism. Exploiting a close-elections regression discontinuity design across Brazilian municipalities, I show that opportunists resort to patronage appointments in both lower-ranking and senior government jobs. Analyses of public opinion and surveys of politicians reveal that opportunists also engage in vote buying. As inattention to politicians’ motivations is not restricted to the literature on clientelism, these findings remind scholars of the importance of intrinsic motivations to understand elite political behavior.

Paper here.


Supporting Black Lives Matter: Citizens’ Views on Corporate Activism

Political Representation of Disadvantaged Ethnic Groups: Competence, Effort, and Performance of Indigenous Mayors in Peru