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
    • Dow, David, Gabriella Levy, Diego Romero, Juan Fernando 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 cases citizens prefer vigilantism over conventional policing. To make sense of these preferences, we draw on two logics of punishment: state substitution and retribution. Using survey data from a conjoint experiment presented to over 9,000 households across Guatemala, we find that preferences for vigilantism depend on how transgressive the crime is as well as how unlikely it is to be prosecuted by the state. Victim and perpetrator gender, as well as crime severity and profession of the perpetrator, affect whether people endorse vigilante punishment. These results ultimately raise concerns about the viability of ‘informal’ forms of policing.
      • Pre-Analysis Plan
      • Draft
    • Denny, Elaine, David Dow, Gabriella Levy, and Mateo Villamizar Chaparro. “Extortion and Civic Engagement Among Guatemalan Deportees.” Under review.
      • How does extortion affect political and civic engagement? Extortion is both a form of victimization and a type of economic hardship, yet existing literature is inconclusive about how both phenomena affect public participation. We argue that extortion as an economic shock will increase grievances, thereby increasing engagement. In contrast, extortion as victimization will prompt fear of crime, thereby depressing engagement. Using novel survey data from migrants deported to Guatemala by the U.S. government, we leverage the quasi-random experience of extortion during migration to test this theory. We find that extortion has a strong positive effect on both civic action and protest after deportation. The results suggest that this effect is mediated partly by increased economic hardship. These findings demonstrate that extortion experienced while migrating has long term financial consequences for deportees which may ultimately shape their reintegration into their home countries.
      • Draft
    • Levy, Gabriella. “Bias in the Evaluation of Violence Against Civilians: Cognitive Dissonance and Moral Disengagement in Colombia.” Under review.
      • How do individuals’ relative preferences for one side of the conflict over the other shape their evaluations of violence against civilians? I argue that, when faced with their preferred side committing civilian targeting, individuals experience cognitive dissonance. I suggest that people engage in three forms of moral disengagement to resolve this dissonance, characterizing the violence as serving a military purpose, minimizing its consequences, or placing responsibility on individual fighters. To test this argument, I use an online survey experiment in Colombia in which individuals read a news story about violence against civilians allegedly perpetrated by the state or guerrillas. The results suggest that respondents justify more lenient punishments for their preferred side by characterizing that side’s violence as less severe and less systematic but not as more militarily necessary.
      • Pre-Analysis Plan
      • Draft
  4. Working Papers & Works in Progress
    • Levy, Gabriella, Rebecca Dudley, Chong Chen, and David Siegel. “Diplomatic Signals and the Strategic Use of Terrorism in Civil Wars.” Working paper.
      • 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
    • 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, Michael Weintraub. “Civilian Preferences for Armed Group Governance Under Competition.” Working paper.
      • How do civilians respond to armed groups’ efforts to govern in areas contested by multiple actors? Questions about when consent to be governed is given, and to whom, are at the center of theories on legitimacy, state building, and political order. We develop a theoretical framework about how individual and community-level attributes influence comparative judgments about armed group rule, and report results from a conjoint survey experiment in Colombia administered to 2,397 respondents across 54 municipalities recently or currently contested by armed groups. We find that armed groups that receive fewer negative evaluations are those that provide collective goods, take community norms into account, establish rules that accord with local traditions, and include local leaders in decision-making processes. We find suggestive evidence for increased self-reported political participation among women in areas formerly controlled by the FARC, which suggests socialization about gender norms. We discuss implications for understanding civilian preferences for governance generally, and armed group governance in particular.
    • De Bruin, Erica, Gabriella Levy, Livia Schubiger. “Attitudes Toward Protests and State Repression: Evidence from Colombia.” Design stage.
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