Conflict or Crime? How victimization shapes preferences for public goods provision in Liberia

Sarah Berens (University of Cologne) and Sabrina Karim (Cornell University)


Paper presented at EPSA 2019, Belfast

AbstractCitizens who have experienced civil conflict are often victims of both conflict related violence as well as crime. Yet, the literature often treats victimization homogeneously. The war victimization literature demonstrates that victimization leads to pro-social behavior, whereas the crime victimization literature is mixed on its effects on public goods preferences. Disaggregating victimization into separate categories, we argue that both types of victimization increase individuals’ demands for public goods. Yet, while conflict victimization is linked to a collective experience, crime victimization is individual, and when it comes to the trade-off between social versus security policy preferences, we expect crime victims to place greater emphasis on law and order instruments. We analyze public goods preferences with original survey data from rural Liberia. Comparing the types of victimization, we find support for our argument that conflict victims are more supportive of social policies and basic public goods than crime victims who foremost value investment into security measures. Our results show the importance of a disaggregated approach to understanding the effects of violence.


The Welfare State amid Crime: How victimization and fear of crime affect preferences for redistribution in Latin America

co-authored with Melina Altamirano (Colmex) & Sandra Ley (CIDE)

forthcoming in Politics & Society

Abstract: Criminal activity continues to be one of the most pressing problems in Latin American societies. Recent evidence reveals that crime affects political behavior and demand for security policies. However, we know less about how violence shapes citizens’ preferences regarding the role of the state in providing welfare policies. We propose two possible responses to crime. On one hand, the failure of the state to provide security might increase distrust in the government and therefore reduce support for an active role of the state in reducing inequalities. On the other hand, violence might increase popular support for social policies if citizens perceive redistribution as a tool to address criminality. Using survey data from LAPOP for 18 Latin American countries for 2008, 2010 and 2012, we study the impact of crime victimization and fear of crime on support for redistribution and welfare demand. Our findings suggest that increased perceptions of insecurity promote more conservative welfare policy attitudes, but once individuals personally experience crime, there seems to be an understanding for the need for welfare policies and redistribution. Since fear of crime is, however, more widespread than actual victimization, our findings suggest that increasing crime rates might put welfare state development at stake in the long run.

Covert Repression and Voting Behavior: The Case of Argentina’s Dirty War

co-authored with Adam Scharpf (German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), University of Mannheim)

In progress

Abstract: How does covert repression affect voting patterns in post-conflict societies? Previous studies suggest that visible state violence such as extra-judicial killings polarizes citizens, stirs their social identities, and changes their partisan ties. However, we know only little about how other types of state repression affect political participation. To fill this gap, we study the influence of covert state violence on post-conflict voting behavior. We argue that clandestine torture or forced disappearances have a similar effect like overt forms of violence. While hidden from the general public, clandestine repression by state authorities may not only affect victims but also emotionally and cognitively impact individuals in vicinity of such violence. We expect that covert repression causes shifts in aggregate party vote shares similar to visible forms of violence. We test this expectation with Argentina’s first presidential elections after the military rule. During the military dictatorship (1976-1983), state authorities employed covert and overt repression against alleged subversive citizens. With original department-level data, we assess if these repression types are correlated with vote shares in the 1983 election, when the full extent of state repression was not yet known to the general public. Our findings reveal that the number of disappearances and of secret detention centers, a proxy for stealth torture, increased the vote share for the pro-human rights candidate that was unrelated to the military junta. The results highlight the importance of covert, as opposed to open, forms of state violence for political participation and post-conflict democratic processes.