My research focuses on the politics of education in the developing world. Specifically, I study how choices with regards to the education sector are the result of interactions between the political alignments of interest groups and electoral incentives. A second area of research of mine is political economy. To investigate these topics, I make use of mixed quantitative and qualitative methods, including interviews, archival work, large-N statistical work, and survey experiments.
What explains why some governments advanced decentralized education in the 1990s while others shied away from such efforts? Some arguments suggest that decentralization was pursued to improve the coverage and quality of education. Others point to partisanship, ideology, or diffusion. Drawing on a case study of El Salvador and Paraguay, I argue instead that governments pursued education decentralization in part because it could be deployed as a political weapon to weaken teachers’ unions affiliated with the opposition, thus depressing mobilization and votes for their rivals. These findings contribute to the literature on decentralization by highlighting a new political motivation fueling decentralization efforts across the developing world—the demobilization of the opposition.
Do citizen perceptions of local state capacity shape evaluations of the national government in a crisis and public compliance with emergency rules? Recent social scientific research on COVID-19 draws on work conducted in rich countries to suggest a number of factors driving government actions, societal behavior, and health outcomes in response to the pandemic. In Latin America, where political parties are weak and poverty more rampant, other more basic factors likely matter more. Perhaps most importantly, in countries across the region state capacity tends to be weaker or more fragmented than in rich countries. We argue that subjective perceptions of state capacity, based on how citizens view the effectiveness of local services, strongly shape how they evaluate the national government’s response to COVID-19. We leverage an online survey across two Mexican states, including an embedded framing experiment, to support this argument. Our finding suggest that governments that need to rapidly build public confidence in policy responses when they need it the most—during the onset of a major crisis—should be concerned about the persistence of pockets of weak state capacity at the local level and its effects on citizens’ view of the national government.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Latin American countries reformed public education in the 1990s in response to a crisis of coverage and quality. Yet, in terms of access, Latin American countries had achieved relatively high enrolment and completion rates by 1990. With regards to quality, there was simply no high-quality evidence showing weak or lowering standards. In short, by the early 1990s, there was very little scientific evidence of a crisis of public education in Latin America. By uncovering these patterns, this paper argues that political scientist should revisit the origins of education reform efforts in the 1990s.