Huang, Haifeng, and Cruz, Nicholas. Propaganda, Presumed Influence, and Collective Protest. (2021) Political Behavior.

Abstract: Political propaganda can reduce citizens’ inclinations to protest by directly influencing their preferences or beliefs about the government. However, given that protest is risky in authoritarian societies and requires collective participation, propaganda can also reduce citizens’ inclination to protest by making them think that other citizens, rather than themselves, may have been influenced by propaganda and are, as a result, unwilling to protest. We test this indirect mechanism of propaganda using a survey experiment with Chinese internet users from diverse backgrounds and find that they do believe propaganda affects other citizens’ support for and beliefs about the government more than their own support and beliefs. Moreover, they believe that propaganda reduces other citizens’ willingness to protest, which in turn reduces their own willingness to protest. Therefore, the power of propaganda may sometimes lie more in the social perceptions and uncertainty it creates than in its direct individual effects.

Dissertation: The Political Economy of Judicial Independence Under Authoritarianism

Chapter 1: The Diverging Effects of Political Threats on Judicial Independence in Autocracies

Abstract: A popular theory for judicial independence, the insurance theory, posits that the presence of political competition causes incumbent political leaders to insulate the courts from politicization, in order to deny the opposition the ability to politicize the courts in the event they take power. However, there is disagreement about whether this generalizes to autocracies. This paper argues that insurance theory can indeed hold in autocracies, but only when the opposition to the incumbent is of a non-violent nature. When the opposition threatens to take power by overthrowing the incumbent, the insurance theory no longer applies. To empirically test my argument, I use cross-national data to examine the extent to which the relationship between political competition and judicial independence varies depending on the type of opposition. My results show that the presence of competition within the political system is indeed associated with more judicial independence, but the presence of a credible coup threat is associated with less judicial independence. This evidence suggests that the presence of a political threat to an authoritarian regime may not necessarily lead to a liberalization of institutions, but rather a further exertion of control.

Chapter 2: The Resource Curse of Judicial Independence in Autocracies

Abstract: Autocrats face conflicting incentives when deciding the level of independence they will grant to the judiciary. On one hand, a constrained judiciary can serve as another instrument of authoritarian rule. On the other hand, and independent judiciary can serve as a credible commitment device to protect property rights. I argue that the presence of abundant natural resources, specifically fossil fuels, provides the regime with an income source that does not require such a credible commitment, and therefore reduces the incentive to allow an independent judiciary, giving the autocrat more leeway to keep the judiciary constrained. Using cross-national data, I show that an abundance of fossil fuels in autocracies is associated with a less independent judiciary. I show that this association between fossil fuels and judicial independence is specific to autocracies, not democracies. Additionally, I explore whether the abundance of fossil fuels leads to either formal and/or informal attacks on judicial independence, and I find evidence of both.

Chapter 3: Independent Courts Under Autocracy: Tool of Public Resistance or Co-optation?

Abstract: Independent courts can serve as a tool to manage public opposition, by allowing autocrats the ability to collect information on the popularity and/or efficacy of their policies, and to co-opt citizens into the regime's system of government. However, a sufficiently organized and powerful public opposition can use these independent courts to successfully challenge and undermine regime policy. I argue that the relationship between public opposition and judicial independence is non-monotonic. Autocrats allow independent courts only when the public opposition is significant enough to necessitate addressing, but not significant enough to be able to effectively use the courts against the regime. I use cross-national data to explore the relationship between the size and strength of public opposition organizations and judicial independence.

Working Papers

Subnational Authoritarianism in a Hybrid Regime: Evidence from Local Government Elections in Nigeria. (with Ada Johnson-Kanu)

Abstract: In Nigeria, a federation, National and state elections have occurred regularly (every four years) since 1999. On the national level, the country resembles a democracy with regular sometimes contested elections. On the local level however, elections are irregular and in the control of state governors who refuse to hold them. We ask why state governors refuse to hold local government elections opting instead to appoint caretaker committees and administrators for local government areas. We argue that state governors are subnational autocrats who face unique environments where they must choose between holding elections or appointing people, they favor to govern local governments. We identify three issues through which governors dilemma on withholding elections arise – Party competition, ethnic competition, and religious competition within the state. Where competition exists, governors are more likely to hold elections as they should.

Research Statement

Download my research statement here.