Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice? Estimating the Effect of Mohamed Salah on Islamophobic Attitudes and Behaviors American Political Science Review
With William Marble, Salma Mousa, and Alexandra Siegel.

Selected media coverage: BBC Arabic, The Economist, The Times, Fox News, The Daily Mail, Sky News, Vice, The Independent, The National, Spiegel Online, Le Figaro, la Republica, Al Jazeera, EuroNews, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

DM&E Webinar presentation

Can exposure to celebrities from stigmatized groups reduce prejudice? To address this question, we study the case of Mohamed Salah, a visibly Muslim, elite soccer player. Using data on hate crime reports throughout England and 15 million tweets from British soccer fans, we find that after Salah joined Liverpool F.C., hate crimes in the Liverpool area dropped by 16% compared with a synthetic control, and Liverpool F.C. fans halved their rates of posting anti-Muslim tweets relative to fans of other top-flight clubs. An original survey experiment suggests that the salience of Salah’s Muslim identity enabled positive feelings toward Salah to generalize to Muslims more broadly. Our findings provide support for the parasocial contact hypothesis—indicating that positive exposure to out-group celebrities can spark real-world behavioral changes in prejudice.

Learning from Null Effects: A Bottom-Up Approach Conditionally Accepted at Political Analysis
With Scott Williamson, Andrea Dillon, Jens Hainmueller, Dominik Hangartner, Michael Hotard, David Laitin, Duncan Lawrence, Jeremy Weinstein

A critical barrier to generating cumulative knowledge in political science and related disciplines is the inability of researchers to observe the results from the full set of research designs that scholars have conceptualized, implemented, and analyzed. For a variety of reasons, studies that produce null findings are especially likely to be unobserved, creating biases in publicly accessible research. While several approaches have been suggested to overcome this problem, none have yet proven adequate. We call for the establishment of a new discipline-wide norm in which scholars post short “null results reports” online that summarize their research designs, findings, and interpretations. To address the inevitable incentive problems that earlier proposals for reform were unable to overcome, we argue that decentralized research communities can spur the broader disciplinary norm change that would bring advantage to scientific advance. To facilitate our contribution, we offer a template for these reports that incorporates evaluation of the possible explanations for the null findings, including statistical power, measurement strategy, implementation issues, spillover/contamination, and flaws in theoretical priors. We illustrate the templates utility with two experimental studies focused on the naturalization of immigrants in the United States and attitudes toward Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Attitudes toward Migrants in a Highly-Impacted Economy: Evidence from the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan. 2021. Comparative Political Studies.
With Andrea Dillon, Scott Williamson, Jens Hainmueller, Dominik Hangartner, and Jeremy Weinstein.

Media: The Washington Post (The Monkey Cage), Lawfare

With international migration at a record high, a burgeoning literature has explored the drivers of public attitudes toward migrants. However, most studies to date have focused on developed countries, which have relatively fewer migrants and more capacity to absorb them. We address this sample bias by conducting a survey of public attitudes toward Syrians in Jordan, a developing country with one of the largest shares of refugees. Our analysis indicates that neither personal- nor community-level exposure to the economic impact of the refugee crisis is associated with antimigrant sentiments among natives. Furthermore, an embedded conjoint experiment validated with qualitative evidence demonstrates the relative importance of humanitarian and cultural concerns over economic ones. Taken together, our findings weaken the case for egocentric and sociotropic economic concerns as critical drivers of antimigrant attitudes and demonstrate how humanitarian motives can sustain support for refugees when host and migrant cultures are similar.

Authoritarian Media and Diversionary Threats: Lessons from Thirty Years of Syrian State Discourse. 2020. Political Science Research and Methods.
With Lisa Blaydes.

Scholars have long argued that leaders manipulate foreign policy, sometimes even initiating wars in order to enhance their domestic political position. But diversionary wars are relatively rare given the high costs of conflict. In this project, we examine data from major Syrian daily newspapers over a thirty-year period (1987-2018) to explore how autocratic regimes use diversionary rhetoric. We find that emphasis on Israel as a diversionary threat decreases during peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. Further, we find that before the Arab Uprisings, Syria’s state-controlled media concentrated on Israel as a security and political threat. After 2011 scrutiny of Israel — and other long-standing topics of state discourse — was displaced by discussion of foreign plots and conspiracies against the Syrian state. Our analysis illustrates how authoritarian regimes make use of diversionary strategies as well as how political shocks generate discontinuities in authoritarian rhetoric.

Do Donor Motives Matter? Investigating Perceptions of Foreign Aid in the conflict in Donbas. 2020. International Studies Quarterly.
With Rachel Myrick and Isaac Webb.

How do the perceived motives of donor states shape recipient attitudes towards foreign aid in a conflict zone? We identify two frames that characterize the motives of foreign powers involved in an ongoing civil conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. These frames portray foreign actors as either providing aid to alleviate suffering during conflict (humanitarian frame) or to increase their power and influence in the recipient country (political influence frame). In a survey experiment, we demonstrate how these frames impact attitudes towards foreign assistance from the European Union and the Russian government. We show that both frames increase support for foreign aid from the European Union but have no influence on views of Russian aid. Counter to conventional expectations, we demonstrate that aid provided for geopolitical, strategic reasons can at times be viewed as a positive, stabilizing force—even more than foreign aid provided for humanitarian reasons.

Maintaining Sovereignty and Preserving the Regime: How Saudi Arabia Views Strategic Stability in Lawrence Rubin and Adam N. Stulberg, eds., The End of Strategic Stability. 2018. Georgetown University Press.

Under Review

The Dynamics of Refugee Return: Syrian Refugees and Their Migration Intentions Under Review With Daniel Masterson, Marine Casalis, Dominik Hangartner, and Jeremy Weinstein.

Policy brief

CISAC Presentation

Media: The Economist, The Washington Post (The Monkey Cage)

Despite the importance of understanding how refugee crises end, little is known about when and why refugees return home. We study the drivers of refugees’ decision-making using original observational and experimental data from a representative sample of 3,003 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We find that conditions in a refugee’s home country are the primary drivers of return intentions. Refugees’ decisions are influenced primarily by safety and security in their place of origin, their economic prospects, the availability of public services, and their personal networks. Confidence in information is also important, as several drivers of return only impact intentions among people who have high confidence in their information. By contrast, the conditions in refugee–hosting countries––so-called “push” factors––play a much smaller role. Even in the face of hostility and poor living conditions, refugees are unlikely to return unless the situation at home improves significantly.

Working Papers

Manufacturing Threats: Diversionary Discourse and Autocratic Survival Working Paper

The 2011 uprisings in the Arab world were followed by more brutal and repressive dictatorships in several countries. How have these regimes maintained their power? Existing explanations of authoritarian durability in the Middle East focuses on repression and co-optation, this project suggests that regimes can manipulate media narratives to dissuade people from dissenting. Specifically, it argues that narratives about threats and conspiracies can introduce uncertainty about regime incompetence and may shape public beliefs about the likelihood that others dissent. By doing so, media manipulation can reduce dissent even without fully persuading the public. This article uses data from Egyptian and Syrian media to examine narratives about threats and conspiracies and finds that protests are often associated with an increase in these types of narratives. Utilizing the fact that Fridays served as a focal day for protests, this paper also shows that these countries were more likely to discuss narratives about threats and conspiracies the day after protests occurred. Finally, the paper argues that regimes mainly use these narratives to divert public attention rather than to accuse protesters of being spies or provocateurs. This paper contributes to the existing literature on authoritarianism in the Middle East by describing how regimes use traditional media sources to influence their publics and reduce dissent. It also contributes to the literature on authoritarian media by explaining how, even under a competitive media environment, autocrats can use regime-run media to manipulate public perceptions of threats and regime competence.

Manipulation Matters: The Effect of Authoritarian Media on Public Attitudes Working Paper

The spread of independent news media has reduced barriers to accessing uncensored information for people living under authoritarian regimes. Scholars have documented how autocrats have responded to this, including the innovative ways to censor, frame, and manipulate media. To what extent are these strategies effective in shaping public attitudes and behavior? This paper contributes to the literature on the effectiveness of autocratic manipulation of media by examining how exposure to regime-run media, especially coverage of conspiracies and threats, can shape attitudes and online behavior. Using data from the Arab barometer, this paper shows that Egyptians who follow the local press were more likely to prioritize foreign interference and less likely to prioritize democratization as major challenges facing their country. Evidence from Egypt-based twitter accounts also demonstrates that followers of a major regime-run newspaper were more likely to discuss terrorism and the Sisi regime’s two main foreign enemies—Qatar and Turkey—following the 2013 coup. This paper then uses a survey experiment to test the causal effect of regime narratives about threats and conspiracies. It finds that respondents, particularly people who previously felt neutral or even opposed the regime, were more likely to trust the regime after reading an article about threats and conspiracies. The survey experiment also explores the mechanism through which these narratives are effective. It suggests that narratives about conspiracies and threats change public priorities about the main challenges facing Egypt and psychologically impact respondents by making them fearful. This paper shows that narratives about threats and conspiracies can alter public attitudes and behavior.

Media and Public Diplomacy in the Arab Gulf: The cases of Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera Working Paper

Over the past three decades, Middle Eastern and foreign powers have invested heavily in Arabic-speaking transnational news media. Two prominent and influential examples include the Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera and the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news channels. How do Qatar and Saudi Arabia use these media outlets to advance their interests? Building on scholarship in public diplomacy and media effects, I argue that these countries have utilized the agenda-setting and framing roles of transnational media to influence Arab publics by shaping ideas and discourse in the Middle East. Qatar has used Al-Jazeera to mobilize the Arab publics by focusing on topics that may anger Arabs, such as discussions of victims of foreign intervention and domestic repression. Saudi Arabia has used Al-Arabiya to pacify the Arab publics by paying more attention to apolitical news. Using topic modeling and dictionary methods on hundreds of thousands of articles from Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, I examine how the two media sources covered these different themes and how they framed three prominent episodes in the region: the Arab-Israeli conflict, the 2013 coup in Egypt, and the 2017 diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbors. This study contributes to the literature on public diplomacy. While much of the research on public diplomacy has focused on great powers or Western democracies, this paper shows that even smaller autocracies use media to influence foreign publics. Additionally, this study contributes to the international relations in the Middle East literature, as regional tensions have increased in recent years partly because of the way state-funded media cover foreign competitors.

Mobile Phone-based Panel Surveys for Mobile Populations with Marine Casalis, Daniel Masterson, Dominik Hangartner, Stefan Wehrli, and Jeremy Weinstein. Working Paper

Panel surveys and phone-based data collection are essential tools for survey research, and are often paired given the practical advantages of contacting people over the phone for conducting repeated interviews. These tools are particularly critical for research in dynamic or high-risk settings, as has been highlighted by researcher responses to the COVID-19 crisis. However, there are many challenges to conducting phone-based panel surveys. These include the difficulty of establishing trust, the instability of contact information, the difficulty of reaching respondents at a time that works for them, and challenges related to participant privacy and security. In this paper, we propose a general framework that addresses these issues and demonstrate its effectiveness from a mobile-based panel survey studying Syrian refugee migration. Using the proposed framework, we were able to keep participant retention at 80% about 2-4 months after the baseline survey, 79% about 4-6 months after the baseline survey, and about 74% 6-8 months after the baseline survey.

Ongoing Projects

Credit Claiming and Blame Avoidance in Authoritarian Media with Scott Williamson.

State Immigration Policy and Immigrant Health with Vicky Fouka, Jens Hainmueller, Dan Hopkins, Michael Hotard, Duncan Lawrence, and Rita Hamad.