Ongoing Projects

SUNGEO: Sub-National Geospatial Data Archive
Kollman, Kenneth (PI) and Yuri M. Zhukov (co-PI). “SUNGEO: Sub-National Geospatial Data Archive.” Data infrastructure, 2021.
Abstract | R package (CRAN) | R package (GitHub)

Research on political, social, and economic behavior and phenomena increasingly depends on combining multiple distinct sources of sub-national data, which are often collected at disparate spatial scales and units of analysis. Using different methods of linking data, not to mention different data sources, can affect inferences. Yet analysts’ critical decisions on both dimensions are often ad hoc and driven mainly by the idiosyncratic needs and constraints of a particular project. These practices reduce the reliability, transparency, and replicability of empirical research.  

The Sub-National Geospatial Data Archive (SUNGEO) will relieve bottlenecks in research by integrating multiple sources of sub-national data in a common data repository at multiple, customizable spatio-temporal scales, and developing a suite of methods for data processing and analysis. This infrastructure includes three main components. First is a user-friendly web interface, where researchers can select among many pre-loaded variables [e.g. elections, violent events, weather, land use, public health outcomes], choose levels and methods of spatio-temporal (dis)aggregation, interpolation and integration, and easily construct their own sub-national datasets. Second is an open-source software package, in the R statistical programming language, that processes user-supplied data, merges them with pre-loaded geo-referenced data, and produces a more customizable output based on user needs and specifications. Third is an archiving tool, which allows users to contribute original data to the repository.

National Science Foundation RIDIR Grant (SES-1925693).

Are Competitive Elections Good for Your Health? Evidence from the 1918 Flu and Covid-19
Walden, Jacob, and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Are Competitive Elections Good for Your Health? Evidence from the 1918 Flu and Covid-19.” Working paper, 2021.
Abstract | PDF

The spread and lethality of infectious diseases partly depend on government efforts to mitigate them. Yet local governments vary substantially in their responses to public health emergencies, with some taking aggressive measures early and often, and others doing relatively little. What explains this variation? Using novel data on local government responses to the 1918 influenza A (H1N1) “Spanish Flu” and 2020 Covid-19 pandemics in the United States, we show that the policy choices of electorally vulnerable incumbents have changed considerably in the last 100 years. In 1918, electorally vulnerable incumbents enacted more nonpharmaceutical interventions for longer periods of time, promoting and enforcing them more aggressively than in less-competitive jurisdictions. More electorally competitive localities subsequently experienced fewer influenza-related deaths, fewer pneumonia cases, and lower overall excess mortality. By 2020, however, these patterns had shifted: more competitive localities still experienced lower rates of Covid-19 infection and death, but authorities in these places became more reluctant to implement nonpharmaceutical interventions. These differences are in part due to greater reliance on pharmaceutical measures and an epidemiologically-significant change in political geography: more competitive localities became more suburban. On net, political competition still appears beneficial for public health, but for different reasons than in 1918.

Fratricidal Coercion and Battlefield Performance in Modern War
Lyall, Jason, and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Fratricidal Coercion and Battlefield Performance in Modern War.” Working paper, 2021.

Existing theories of combat motivation and military effectiveness largely dismiss the utility of coercing one’s own soldiers to fight. Yet nearly 20 percent of all belligerents in modern wars fought since 1800 have employed specialized units (“blocking detachments”) authorized to kill faltering or retreating soldiers. What remains unclear is whether fratricidal coercion improves or undercuts battlefield performance. We examine this question by drawing on the personnel records of millions of Red Army soldiers in World War II. We estimate how the presence of NKVD Special Sections embedded within Soviet army divisions affected casualties and several elements of cohesion, including desertion, defection, surrender, and disappearance. We find that several indicators of soldier discipline improved as the number of NKVD officers assigned to each unit increased. Fatalities, however, worsened, suggesting that armies purchase discipline at the cost of higher casualties. We process trace the relationship between fratricidal coercion and soldier behavior by comparing matched pairs of Rifle Divisions drawn from the larger sample that fought in battles at Leningrad (1941) and Stalingrad (1942).

Fighting for Tyranny: How State Repression Shapes Military Performance
Rozenas, Arturas, Roya Talibova, and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Fighting for Tyranny: How State Repression Shapes Military Performance.” Working paper, 2021.
Abstract | PDF

How hard will citizens fight to defend a state they see as tyrannical? Using a stylized model of soldier’s choice, we show that exposure to state repression should increase effort by lower-motivated soldiers, but decrease effort by higher-motivated ones. We test this claim by utilizing over 100 million declassified Red Army personnel records from World War II. Our empirical strategy exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the scale of Stalin’s repression prior to war due to explicit random targeting, logistical costs, and local administrative discretion. Consistent with our expectations, soldiers from places exposed to higher repression were more likely to fight until death and less likely to flee, but also received fewer decorations for personal bravery. Repression appears to have induced obedience at the expense of initiative and increased the human costs of war.

Never Again: The Holocaust and Political Legacies of Genocide
Wayne, Carly, and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Never Again: The Holocaust and Political Legacies of Genocide.” Working paper, 2019.
Abstract | PDF

What political lessons do victims of mass violence and genocide learn and pass on to their children? We explore two pathways through which personal experiences of genocide may shape the political attitudes of survivors and their descendants. First, these experiences could engender empathy toward other victims of violence, making survivors of repression (and their descendants) more supportive of oppressed out-groups. Second,exposure to this type of mass violence could heighten levels of fear, making these individuals less supportive of other victimized groups, if they believe they pose a potential threat. We examine these two divergent effects in the context of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, and the attendant abstract principle of `never again.’ We conduct a survey experiment of out-group political attitudes among American Jews, including survivors, descendants, and those with no family connection to the Holocaust. We find that survivors and descendants are far more likely to support accepting Syrian refugees than individuals without a direct family connection to the Holocaust. Yet, compared to other respondents, survivors and descendants are also less likely to change their attitudes on refugees after being primed to feel empathy or threat toward them. These findings suggest that exposure to mass violence and genocide increases empathy toward other victimized groups, and this effect likely endures across generations.

Repression Works (just not in moderation)
Zhukov, Yuri M. “Repression Works (just not in moderation).” Working paper, 2019.
Abstract | PDF

Why does government violence deter political challengers in one context, but inflame them in the next? This paper argues that repression increases opposition activity at low and moderate levels, but decreases it in the extreme. There is a threshold level of violence, where the opposition becomes unable to recruit new members, and the rebellion unravels — even if the government is responsible for more civilian suffering overall. I show this result theoretically, with a mathematical model of coercion and popular support, and empirically, with micro-level data from Chechnya and a meta-analysis of sub-national conflict dynamics in 145 countries. The data suggest that such a threshold exists, but the level of violence needed to reach it varies. Many governments, thankfully, are unable or unwilling to go that far. I explore conditions under which this threshold may be higher or lower, and highlight a fundamental trade-off between reducing government violence and preserving civil liberties.

Political Regime Type and Warfare: Evidence from 600 Years of European History
Blank, Meredith, Mark Dincecco and Yuri M. Zhukov. “Political Regime Type and Warfare: Evidence from 600 Years of European History.” Working paper, 2017.
Abstract | PDF

This paper presents new evidence that, historically, the relationship between political regime type and warfare was different than it is today. Using a novel database of interstate conflict in Europe between 1200 and 1800, we perform the first quantitative analysis of domestic political institutions and warfare across the pre-modern era. We find that early parliamentary regimes – the institutional predecessors of modern democracies – were disproportionately more likely to experience armed conflict than their absolutist counterparts. Our empirical strategy makes use of two complementary approaches: a standard dyadic analysis of conflict initiation, and a dynamic network analysis that accounts for interdependence between dyads. These analyses show that early parliamentary regimes fought in significantly more wars than absolutist monarchies, both against one another and overall. Such regimes, we argue, had a relatively large capacity to make war, but, unlike modern democracies, not enough institutional constraints to prevent it.

How Selective Reporting Shapes Inferences about Conflict
Zhukov, Yuri M. and Matthew A. Baum. “How Selective Reporting Shapes Inferences about Conflict.” Working paper, 2017.
Abstract | PDF

By systematically under- or over-reporting violence by different actors, media organizations convey potentially contradictory information about how a conflict is likely to unfold, and whether outside intervention is necessary to stop it. These reporting biases affect not only statistical inference, but also public knowledge and policy preferences. Using new event data on the ongoing armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine, we perform parallel analyses of data from
Ukrainian, rebel, Russian and third party sources. We show that actor-specific reporting bias can yield estimates with vastly different implications for conflict resolution: Ukrainian sources predict frequent unilateral escalation by rebels, pro-Russian rebel sources predict unilateral escalation by government troops, while outside sources predict that transgressions by either side should be quite rare. Experimental evidence suggests that news consumers tend to support intervention against whichever side is shown to be committing the violence. We argue that these kinds of reporting biases can potentially make conflicts more difficult to resolve — hardening attitudes against negotiated settlement, and in favor of military action.
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