What drives politician attitudes and behaviors in relatively new democracies? To what extent do they work to represent the needs and preferences of their constituents? To what extent do they accept or resist efforts to hold them accountable? Do certain circumstances or particular initiatives produce better politicians?
For several years, while teaching at Princeton, I conducted research on the various challenges to democratic accountability in the context of decentralized and polycentric institutional environments, and in this work, I paid particular attention to local politicians. Despite the great optimism for cooperative or polycentric governance, I show that diffuse accountability mechanisms can lead to substantial under-performance. A related paper from that research described the gender- and race-specific policy preferences among those politicians, particularly with respect to health- and AIDS-related policies.
Since I moved to MIT, I have been working to develop and to extend this research. Along with Philip Martin (PhD student, MIT) and Nina McMurray (PhD student, MIT), and more recently with Gabriel Nahmias (PhD student, MIT), we are working on a project investigating accountability and responsiveness by directly studying African politicians in South Africa, focusing on the thousands of democratically-elected local councillors. Specifically, we have been studying how these individuals relate to both their constituents and to other political principals (i.e. parties, and other levels of government). You can learn more here: South African Councillor Panel Study (SACOPS)
Also: Here is a literature review paper that appeared in Lancaster and Van de Walle’s edited volume on Politics in the developing countries, which motivates some of my research.