Research

  1. Dissertation Project
    • “Variation in Public Responses to Violence against Civilians”
  2. Publications
    • Levy, Gabriella. 2022. “Evaluations of Violence at the Polls: Civilian Victimization and Support for Perpetrators After War.” Journal of Politics, 84(2): 798-813.
      • Following armed conflict, voters must often evaluate candidates who have allegedly committed violence against civilians. What kinds of alleged perpetrators are voters more willing to support and why? I argue that people appraise candidates’ alleged involvement in violence by considering how their participation reflects competence and integrity. This article relies on the Theory of Dyadic Morality to build a framework for civilian judgements about perpetrator integrity. The article also argues that the most salient form of competence in the context of civilian targeting is security competence. A conjoint survey in Colombia featuring hypothetical former combatants running for office indicates, in line with my argument, that attributes associated with integrity affect respondent preferences. Respondents are more supportive of candidates who violate less strict norms, have less agency, and have less clear causal links to the victims. More unexpectedly, attributes associated with security competence are less important than broader indicators of competence.
      • Article (& Appendices)
      • Pre-Analysis Plan
      • Replication Files
  3. Articles Under Review
    • Levy, Gabriella. “Violence Against Civilians and Public Support for State Actors: The Moderating Role of Governance and Ideology.” R&R at Journal of Peace Research.
      • When state forces engage in violence against civilians during civil wars, why do some citizens continue to support the government? I argue that one reason is that public attitudes toward a perpetrator are shaped not only by its violence but also by the governance it provides, the ideology it promotes, and the violence committed by other armed groups. Drawing on research on motivated reasoning, I further argue that ideological similarity with and effective governance from the state can alleviate the negative effect of military violence on public support for the state and, conversely, augment the positive effect of insurgent violence on it. Analysis of nine years of surveys fielded by the Latin American Public Opinion Project suggests that individuals’ responses to victimization by both the state and its opponents depend on whether the state provides security from crime as well as whether the individuals are ideologically aligned with the state. These findings imply that it is not only identity which moderates the effect of violence on public attitudes, as existing studies suggest, but also governance and ideology. As such, a more complete theory of why people support governments which engage in violence against civilians requires an understanding of elements of conflict other than violence.
      • Draft
    • Levy, Gabriella, David Dow, Diego Romero, Juan Tellez. “State Absence, Vengeance, and the Logic of Vigilantism in Guatemala.” R&R at Comparative Political Studies.
      • Across the world, citizens sidestep the state to punish offenses on their own. Such vigilantism can help communities provide order, yet it raises concerns about public accountability and the rights of the accused. While prior research has identified the structural correlates of vigilantism, an open question is in which scenarios citizens prefer vigilantism over conventional policing. To make sense of these preferences, we delineate two potential logics of vigilantism – state substitution and retribution – by drawing on research in criminology and psychology on punishment motives. Using survey data from over 9,000 households across Guatemala, we provide estimates of the effect of varying crime scenarios on people’s preference for vigilantism over policing. The results highlight how support for vigilantism can vary substantially across crimes, suggest that a desire for retribution is a strong determinant of attitudes towards vigilantism, and ultimately raise concerns about the viability of ‘informal’ forms of policing.
      • Pre-Analysis Plan
      • Draft
    • Levy, Gabriella, Rebecca Dudley, Chong Chen, and David Siegel. “Diplomatic Signals and the Strategic Use of Terrorism in Civil Wars.” Under Review.
      • How does third-party support, both diplomatic and material, affect rebel groups’ use of terrorism in civil wars? We argue via a game-theoretic model that diplomatic support prompts prospective shifts in rebel tactics, from civilian to military targets, in anticipation of material support, while material support alters the cost structure of attacks, leading to the same tactical shift. We empirically test the model’s implications using an original dataset of UN resolutions about countries in civil wars, as well as a case study of South Africa. In support of our theory, we find that both diplomatic resolutions and material interventions in favor of the rebels are associated with decreased rebel reliance on violence against civilians. These findings demonstrate the value of modeling civilian and military targeting as substitutes rather than examining civilian targeting in isolation.
      • Draft
  4. Working Papers & Works in Progress
    • Levy, Gabriella. “Preferences for Armed Actors and Responses to Civilian Victimization.” Working paper.
      • How do civilians’ relative preferences for one side of the conflict over the other shape their subsequent evaluations of violence against civilians? I argue that individuals characterize civilian targeting committed by the side of the conflict they prefer as less morally wrong and less worthy of punishment. Moral disengagement allows them to interpret this violence as serving a morally valuable cause; minimize the harmful consequences of the abuse; or displace responsibility for the violence from the group to individual perpetrators. To test this argument, I utilize an online survey experiment in Colombia with 1,500 respondents in which individuals read a news story about an allegation of violence against civilians perpetrated by either the state or guerrillas. The results suggest that judgements of appropriate punishment, but not evaluations of moral wrongfulness, are shaped by respondent armed group preferences. Furthermore, people justify reduced punishments for their preferred side by characterizing that side’s violence as less severe and less systematic but not as less necessary.
      • Pre-Analysis Plan
      • Draft
    • Denny, Elaine, David Dow, Gabriella Levy, and Mateo Villamizar Chaparro. “Extortion and Civic Engagement Among Guatemalan Deportees.” Working paper.
      • How does extortion experienced during the migration journey affect the civic engagement of deported migrants returned to their home country?  More broadly, how does extortion affect political participation? We know very little about either the political behavior of returnees or about how coercive economic shocks experienced during migration affect subsequent levels of political participation. Furthermore, existing literature on how victimization affects political participation is inconclusive, particularly when combined with existing work on economic insecurity. Studying deported migrants and the quasi-random experience of extortion enables us to address the endogeneity that often confounds these analyses. This approach allows us to isolate the impact of extortion on political action from potentially confounding factors related to local security or corruption. Using a novel dataset from Guatemalan migrants returned to Guatemala by the U.S. government, we find that extortion has a direct, positive relationship with multiple forms of civic action, and that, at least in this context, the mobilizing effects of economic hardship outweigh the potentially demobilizing effects of fear of crime.
      • World Bank Working Paper
    • Levy, Gabriella and Mateo Villamizar Chaparro. “The Electoral Effects of Targeted Post-Conflict Political Violence.” Working paper.
      • What are the effects of violence against civic leaders and ex-combatants on electoral outcomes in unstable contexts emerging from conflict? Such individuals have been targeted in a range of countries, including Colombia and Afghanistan. Yet, existing research on wartime and electoral violence has rarely explored the killings of these non-combatants, who are neither regular people nor powerful politicians. Thus, we examine the relationship between 1) the deaths of social leaders and demobilized ex-combatants in Colombia following the 2016 peace agreement and 2) Colombian political participation and vote choice in 2018 and 2019 elections. Methodologically, we use a series of municipal level estimations followed by individual level regressions using DANE survey data from the Colombian government. Our results indicate that social leader and ex-combatant assassinations each reduce political engagement as well as support for the hawkish candidate. We also provide suggestive evidence that the assassinations not only reduce citizens’ perceptions of their personal security but also increase their belief in the value of violence and depress their satisfaction with the state of democracy in their country. These results suggest that, through their impact on electoral participation, vote choice, and public attitudes, the assassinations may have countervailing effects on national stability.
      • Draft
    • De Bruin, Erica, Gabriella Levy, Livia Schubiger. “Attitudes Toward Protests and State Repression: Evidence from Colombia.” Pre-analysis plan and fieldwork completed.
    • De Bruin, Erica, Gabriella Levy, Livia Schubiger, Michael Weintraub. “Civilian Preferences for Armed Group Governance Under Competition.” Design stage.
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