Kristen Kao


Kao, Kristen. 2016. “How Jordan’s Election Revealed Enduring Weaknesses in its Political System.” (Alternative title: “Why Jordanian Elections Lack Political Parties (and the Answer is Not Tribes).”) Washington Post/Monkey Cage. Click Here

Kristen Kao (with Lindsay J. Benstead, Pierre F. Landry, Ellen Lust, and Dhafer Malouche). 2015. “Use of Tablet Computers to Implement the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI) in Tunisia”. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and GLD Working Paper. Click Here

Kao, Kristen. 2015. “Do Jordan’s Tribes Challenge or Strengthen the State?” Washington Post/Monkey Cage. Click Here

Kao, Kristen. 2012. “Jordan’s Ongoing Election Law Battle.” Sada. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Click Here

Kao, Kristen. 2012. “Jordan.” Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Working Papers

Kao, Kristen. “Electoral Institutions and Ethnic Clientelism in Jordan.”

This paper offers an understanding of why clientelism is based on ethnic ties in certain cases, but not others. It examines how electoral institutions interact with ethnic identity to shape political outcomes, not only in elections but also in parliamentary service provision long after the last ballot is cast. Employing information on tribal structures and voter registration lists to estimate tribal size within districts in conjunction with constituent casework logs of six MPs, I find that in single non-transferable vote (SNTV) districts, MPs win their seats almost solely with the support of their tribes and practice more tribal favoritism in the provision of services. On the contrary, MPs in single member plurality districts (SMDs) cobble together more ethnically diverse coalitions to win their seats and distribute state benefits more evenly between coethnics and non-coethnics. I use data from the 2014 Governance and Local Development (GLD) post-election survey to show that a history of having ethnic connections with parliamentarians augments voter turnout in SNTV districts, whereas it has no relationship with voter turnout in SMDs. Importantly, this research finds a strong link between electoral outcomes and service provision in a setting of authoritarianism. Substantively, constituents who are not born into the right tribe lack a government representative and suffer inequality in access to government resources for years after the elections.

Kao, Kristen (with Lindsay J. Benstead). “Examining the Effects of Gender, Islamism, and Ethnicity on Voter Preferences.”

Empirical research on voting behavior in the developing world tends to focus on a single social dimension in determining voter preferences, when in reality voters are likely weighing multiple factors when selecting a candidate. In this paper we examine the influence of candidate gender, ideology, and ethnicity on voter preferences through an experiment embedded within the 2014 Governance and Local Development survey of eligible voters in Jordan. Respondents received a pair of statements about a male or a female candidate who is educated and/or is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or a member of the respondent’s tribe. After each statement, respondents were asked how likely they would be to vote for the candidate on a ten-point scale. We find that the gender of a candidate interacts in interesting ways with tribal and Islamist backgrounds.

Kristen Kao (with Lindsay Benstead and Ellen Lust). “Why Does it Matter What Observers Say? The Impact of International Monitoring on the Electoral Legitimacy.”

Election monitoring has spread dramatically since the 1990s, becoming a near right-of-passage. The literature suggests that international monitoring assessments have a uniform impact—influencing citizens’ perceptions in the direction of the statements they make—that is similar across contexts, but this remains untested. We use unique survey experiments conducted among 4,000 citizens in Jordan, Libya, and Tunisia to test the impact of monitoring statements on public opinion. We find little support for conventional wisdom. Their impact depends on a priori attitudes toward the government. In some cases, statements have a backfire effect, leading individuals to state more negative or positive assessments in response to statements in the opposite direction. Moreover, the impact varies across countries. The backfire effect is most significant in Jordan, where the international community is viewed as supporting the monarchy. Backfire effects are weaker in Libya and insignificant in Tunisia, where the West is not viewed as supporting an incumbent regime. The findings extend literature on international relations and electoral politics and offer insights for the monitoring community: statements may have the greatest effect where anti-western sentiments are pronounced, but their effects may be counter-productive, with positive statements leading to more negative views of the elections.

Kao, Kristen (with Ellen Lust and Lise Rakner.) “Examining Drivers Vote Buying, Clientelism, and Public Goods Provision in Malawi.”

In this paper we present the analysis of a conjoint experiment in Malawi in which candidates varied according to ethnicity, type of goods provision they were offering, their connection to the village, and gender.

Kao, Kristen (with Lindsay Benstead). “Women Parliamentarian Service Provision in Jordan.”

Analysis of the constituency service records of nine Jordanian parliamentarians are presented in this paper. The analysis pays particular attention to the effect of gender of both the suppliers of service provision – the MPs – and the recipients of it – the constituents.

Kao, Kristen. “Local Governance in a Rentier State: Battling the Overdevelopment of Land in Kuwaiti Municipalities.” Yale Program on Governance and Local Development.

Controversies surrounding municipal governance in the developing world tend to focus on the provision of basic services such as road maintenance and waste management. Yet in the small rentier state of Kuwait, where the short supply of developable land comes into conflict with a severe housing shortage and an abundance of local capital to invest into real estate and the building up of neighborhoods, municipalities face intense battles over zoning, licensing, and urban planning. Citizens concerned with the overbuilding and overuse of Kuwaiti lands confront entrenched corruption and a lack of initiative in addressing their concerns at the municipality.

A brief history of the shifting role of the municipality in implementing the Kuwaiti masterplan and the land purchase program, by which the government distributed much of the early oil rents to the citizenry, provides the necessary background for understanding the dynamics of recent controversies over landuse in the kingdom. This report details the structures and major functions of the municipality with a focus on those pertaining to land development. It also considers the effect of the centralization of power away from the municipal councils towards a newly created minister of municipalities that was initiated with the passage of the 2005 municipalities law. The conclusion offers analysis of some of the specific issues being brought forward by citizens to the municipalities concerning landuse, highlighting major points that Kuwaiti municipalities should seek to address in the near future.

Kao, Kristen. “Experimenting with Electoral Institutions in Kuwait and Jordan.”

This paper explores shifts in electoral laws throughout the history of Jordan and Kuwait as a means of controlling potential opposition. The data extends the findings of my dissertation to the case of Kuwait, where SNTV electoral institutions were implemented in 2012. As in Jordan, these institutions increase the salience of ethnic divisions in the elections and hinder inter-ethnic political coalitions.

Ongoing Research Projects

Co-Principal Investigator, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, VolkswagenStiftung, Wellcome Trust Europe and Global Challenges Grant. (900,000 Euros, Application status pending). For more information: Click Here

This project examines the drivers of radicalization and support for terrorism. It extends existing research, primarily focused on individual-level characteristics of terrorists, their networks, or national-level socio-economic conditions, by studying how local governance and community ties affects radicalization. The project focuses on radicalization in two Arab countries that contain pockets of extremism: Tunisia and Jordan. The study will combine case studies, workshops, and a survey of local governance, the Local Governance and Performance Index (LGPI), which measures governance and service provision at the community level. Workshops and meetings held in Jordan, Tunisia, and Sweden, will bring together scholars, development specialists, civil society activists, and government officials to inform adaptation of the LGPI to gauge radicalization and support for terrorism and to strengthen key stakeholders’ engagement with findings. Implementation of the LGPI in countries that span two continents allows us to isolate territorially limited correlates of violent extremism from those that cross international borders. Underlying mechanisms that explain variations in radicalism will be further examined through case studies that vary in governance and support for terrorism.

FORMAS Challenges and Opportunities of Urbanization grant with Ellen Lust, Lise Rakner, Boniface Dulani, Adam Harris, and Pierre Landry. (9.1 million SEK/1.1million USD) For more information: Click Here

Rapid and unplanned urban growth creates significant governance challenges, particularly in Sub Sahara Africa, which is urbanizing at a faster rate than any other region of the world, with an annual increase of 1.1 percent (UN 2015). Unplanned or inadequately managed urban expansion leads to pollution and environmental degradation, together with unsustainable production and consumption patterns (Nyaura 2014, UN 2015). It also creates inequalities when the necessary infrastructure is not developed or when policies are not implemented to ensure that the benefits of city life are shared equally. Today, despite the comparative advantage of cities, urban areas are more unequal than rural areas and hundreds of millions of the world’s urban poor live in sub-standard conditions (UN 2015). As more citizens in African countries move to the cities, in part because farming is becoming less stable and profitable (Barrios et al 2009, Bruckner 2012), the governance of urban areas becomes a key challenge. Scholars have noted that our understanding of governance in the face of urbanization is grossly limited and needs further investigation (Camagni et al 1998, Mutisya and Yarime 2013). Only by examining governance can we understand why some urban communities provide secure environments, good education, adequate health care, and other factors that promote human development, while others fail to do so. Answering such questions is key for policymakers, development specialists, and others who seek to improve the lives of millions who suffer from violence, poor education, unattended illnesses, and lost opportunities at the hands of corrupt leaders. In this project, we explore governance in the major cities of three rapidly urbanizing, low-income countries: Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. We argue that the variation in governance and key development outcomes is driven not only by formal government institutions, but also social institutions.

The Program on Governance and Local Development Local Governance Performance Index Survey, Malawi, 2016. (N~8,000) Click Here

As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the GLD program at Gothenburg I helped to design, code, and implement a face-to-face, tablet-based survey (N=8,000) in Malawi, where I spent three weeks in the field managing a more qualitative municipal study team in the south and helped to facilitate the survey as well as monitor the incoming data. The survey includes within it the Local Governance Performance Index, a unique, multifaceted, survey-based measure of local governance and development that provides comparative data at the subnational level.

The Program on Governance and Local Development Post-Election Survey, Jordan, 2014. (N~1,500) Click Here

I ran a post-election survey in Jordan in April 2014 in collaboration with Professors Ellen Lust (Yale University) and Lindsay Benstead (Portland State University) and funded by the program on Governance and Local Development (GLD) at Yale. In the survey, we asked a nationwide sample of Jordanian voters about the services they receive from their MPs and tribal voting. The survey also considers power dynamics and social relations within communities, gender issues, and includes embedded experiments concerning different aspects of the elections. We are collaborating on a number of projects that utilize the results of this survey including looking at whether international monitors affect domestic perceptions of the legitimacy of elections, how religious garb affects perceptions of parliamentary candidates, and the interactive effect of gender with Islamist versus tribal affiliations on candidate electability.