Government Accountability

OpportunistIC Accountability


"Opportunistic Accountability: State-Society Bargaining Over Shared Interests" With s. Grossman, & J. Phillips. Comparative Political Studies (2017). Appendix; Replication material; Monkey Cage/Washington Post.

Conflicting preferences between the state and society underpin most accountability mechanisms by providing a credible way for society to impose costs on the state. Adapting a classic bargaining framework, we argue that broader conditions can support state–society bargaining. Policies that both the state and society value can also enhance society’s negotiating power, provided society has a relatively lower valuation and is more patient than the state. By threatening to sabotage their own interests but hurt the impatient state even more, citizens can compel the state to deliver broader policy benefits. We illustrate this logic with the case of polio vaccination in northern Nigeria, where entire communities have resisted the vaccine as a strategy to bargain for more desired services. To resolve and preempt noncompliance, the Nigerian government has enhanced service delivery in other areas, demonstrating the opportunity for improved accountability in the presence of shared-interest policies.

The State of the Social Contract

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“Identity, Informality, and Compliance:  The State of the Social Contract in Lagos Nigeria” with N. Wilson. In progress.

Stark inequalities in the state’s treatment of its citizens may signal to some residents that the state is not upholding its end of the social contract. In urban “informal settlements”—where the lack of public services is particularly acute—the state might even threaten to destroy citizens’ homes and neighborhoods. How does variation in exposure to government-led evictions correspond to variation in citizens’ self-identification, sense of belonging, willingness to invest in the community, and more general political attitudes and modes of engagement? We examine these questions in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Using interview and survey data from 42 informal settlements in Lagos, we explore how residents’ willingness to engage and comply with state policy is influenced by their degree of housing insecurity and their expectations of state predation. Our pilot survey of 500 randomly sampled informal settlement residents reveals that a surprisingly large proportion of citizens trust their elected representatives, pay government taxes, and are willing to cooperate with state-led development efforts. We explore explanations for why citizens uphold their side of the social contract even when the state does not.