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 Ellen Lust and Lise Rakner.) “Money Machine: Do the Poor Demand Clientelism?” Click Here

The predominant view of clientelism is that the poor are particularly likely to exchange their votes for cash or material goods. The view is often based on a supply-side perspective, which argues that candidates are more likely to offer goods in return for votes to poor because their per- vote cost is lower, they are more likely to act reciprocally (thus overcoming the commitment problem of vote-buying), and less likely to see vote-buying as morally unacceptable. The clientelism literature suggests the poor are likely to prefer candidates who offer to buy their votes over those offering community goods, but research in social psychology finds that the poor may be particularly concerned with community welfare and less likely to prefer such candidates. In this paper, we employ a rating-based, conjoint analysis in Malawi, to examine the extent to which voters, and particularly the poor, prefer candidates who promise selective incentives over those who promise goods for the community. We find significant evidence that community interests, and not selfish motivations, drive voters’ behavior. Even the very poor tend to prefer candidates who promise community goods (e.g., a school, clinic, roads), and they respond unfavorably to those who promise an immediate exchange of particularistic goods for votes (or “vote-buying”). This has important implications for the literature on clientelism, which often assumes that the poor prefer candidates who offer targeted incentives. It also has important policy implications, as it suggests that offers of vote-buying to the poor may not be the most cost-effective strategy for candidates.

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

The bulk of voting behavior literature focuses on how single traits—e.g., religion, gender, or ethnicity—affect electability. Using an original 2014 survey experiment conducted among 1,499 Jordanians, we explore the effects of multiple candidate identities—gender, co-ethnicity, and Islamist —on vote choice. Respondents receive statements about male or female candidates who are Islamists or co-ethnics and rate their likelihood of voting for them. We evaluate the usefulness of an intersectional approach vis-à-vis existing gender role congruity, power relations, and social identification theory theories. Although less electable overall, female candidates fare better than males among female voters and they do at least as well as males from the same group (i.e., Islamists, co-ethnics) among voters from their social in-groups. Our findings add to nascent literature showing that women’s electoral chances depend on intersecting identities and underscore the need to engage intersectionality in theories of electoral behavior, writ large.

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 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.