GLD Working Papers

The Municipal Finances and Challenges of Municipal Taxation in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

Salih Yasun


What factors explain the deficiencies in local taxation income in developing countries undertaking decentralization reforms? In this paper, Salih Yasun focuses on the municipal finances in post-revolutionary Tunisia to answer this question. He analyzes the official data published by the Ministry of Local Affairs and Environment for each municipality and compares it with data on other municipal properties. Through a mixed-method approach, Yasun examines the challenges the recently formed municipalities faced in collecting municipal tax income during the 2019 fiscal year. He identifies that municipalities formed after the revolution (N=86) have substantively lower per capita taxation income than municipalities that existed before the revolution (N=264). To explain this phenomenon, Yasun conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews between March and June 2022 with 10 mayors, council members, and bureaucrats. The interviews outline challenges in identification through data (ihsa’) and the absence of citizen collaboration – especially among municipalities that incorporated rural councils – as factors that led to the deficiencies in tax resources. The data collected under former municipal boundaries became unusable within the novel settings. As a result, new municipalities lacked information about businesses and services provided to households, severely limiting their tax income; rural councils previously did not collect taxes. After their incorporation into municipalities, citizens within such areas were either unaware of their current tax obligations or unwilling to pay them. His findings highlight the historical legacies of administrative capacity and citizen compliance on limiting local taxation capacity in developing countries.                               


Keywords: local governance, taxation, Tunisia, state capacity, municipalities

The Social Embeddedness of Elections: Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 Campaigns

George M. Bob-Milliar and Jeffrey W. Paller


Research on electoral mobilization in Africa focuses on core versus swing voters, clientelistic linkages, and ethnic voting. This paper adds an important yet understudied addition to this scholarship: the social and institutional dynamics of electoral mobilization. Drawing on a dataset of campaign visits in Ghana’s 2016 and 2020 elections, Bob-Millar and Paller treat elections as an ongoing process, emphasizing the spatial targeting of campaign events and their ritualistic quality, as well as the social embeddedness of political parties in local constituencies. First, the authors find that a significant political learning process took place between 2016 and 2020 for candidates of the two major parties. Second, they note the importance of incumbency advantage – as opposed to ideological or demographic factors – in shaping campaign targeting, particularly the type of campaign visit. Third, they explain how political parties are socially embedded and rely on occupational groups like market associations and fisherfolk to mobilize voters. The paper concludes that research on election campaigns considers the social and institutional dynamics shaping political mobilization.

Keywords: Elections, campaigns, mobilization, social embeddedness, Ghana

Local Control: How Opposition Support Constrains Electoral Autocrats

Rachael McLellan


Scholars conceptualize autocrats as central planners, constrained in how much they can distribute but not where. Autocrats use punishment regimes to sanction disloyalty. In many electoral autocracies, local institutions are the infrastructure of reward and sanction, a legacy of decentralization in the 1980s and 1990s. McLellan shows that autocrats face subnational constraints on their ability to enforce punishment regimes. Using administrative and electoral data, interviews, and a survey in Tanzania, she demonstrates that local control – who wins elected control of local institutions – determines the autocrats’ ability to punish opposition support. She shows incumbent local governments (LGs) punish opposition support while opposition LGs do so less. McLellan find that the extent to which opposition parties can disrupt or even flip the punishment regime depends on the level of de facto decentralization of the local public good in question. As a result, survey respondents in opposition LGs fear community punishment less, making it easier for them to vote on conscience. This suggests even small pockets of opposition support constrain autocrats. This study demonstrates the importance of subnational politics in the study of autocracy and suggests a more democratic legacy of decentralization than prevailing scholarship would suggest.

The (Spatial) Ties that Bind: Frequent Casual Contact, the Shadow of the Future, and Prosociality Across Ethnic Divisions

Paige Bollen


What can spur prosocial behavior across ethnic divisions? A host of studies focus on the potential power of deep contact between group members. Bollen instead focuses on the capacity of casual contact. While most research finds that a higher volume of casual contact with outgroup members augments divisions between groups, she centers her analysis on the under-theorized effect of repeated casual contact with the same outgroup members. Bollen uses a survey experiment in Accra, Ghana to show that repeated casual contact can increase prosocial behavior towards non-coethnics because it shifts individuals’ expectations about sanctioning, reciprocity, and findability. By exploring the space between social embeddedness and social anonymity, these findings add consideration to the consequences of repeated casual contact in the inter-ethnic relations literature.

Do List Experiments Run as Expected? Examining Implementation Failure in Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi

Kristen Kao and Ellen Lust 


A fundamental premise of list experiments is that they allow respondents to hide sensitive attitudes and behaviors among a list of other items. List experiments accomplish this by asking the respondent to count both sensitive and innocuous items, rather than answering questions directly about each item. Social scientists widely employ list experiments to overcome sensitivity bias but have not yet systematically studied whether the complicated nature of these experiments leads to implementation errors. Analysis of a list experiment across three countries suggests that respondents reveal their direct responses to list items more than half of the time. This problem is particularly prevalent among less educated and older respondents, and the complicated nature of the question mediates the relationships between age and education and reveals answers. Kao and Lust encourage scholars to include questions about implementation problems as standard follow-ups in list experiments to understand if they worked properly in the field.

Keywords: List experiment, survey methodology, Sub-Saharan Africa, sensitivity bias, social desirability bias