Job Market Paper: "The Salience of Political Messages: Evidence from Soldier Deaths in India."
With Apurav Y. Bhatiya
Received Best Paper Award at King’s India Institute Graduate Conference 2021.
Leaders often send political messages to try to influence citizens and voters. But, what makes their messages more or less salient? One possibility is that the salience of political messages increases if voters are exposed to events related to the messages. We study this question using the 2019 national election in India, where Prime Minister Modi's speeches focused on his aggressive response to deadly attacks on soldiers. Using a difference-in-differences identification strategy, we find that the vote share of the PM's incumbent party increased by 4.6 percentage points in the home constituencies of dead soldiers. Text analysis of Modi's speeches reveals that only deaths referenced by him affect public opinion, but deaths not referenced by him do not. Our paper is one of the first to study how event exposure interacts with political messages to affect voting behaviour.
Religious groups sometimes resist modern welfare-enhancing interventions, adversely affecting the group's human capital levels. In this context, we study whether the two largest religious groups in India (Hindus and Muslims) resisted western education because they shared religious identity with the rulers deposed by British colonizers. We find that Muslim literacy in an Indian district under the British is lower where the deposed ruler was a Muslim, while Hindu literacy is lower where the deposed ruler was a Hindu. To deal with possible omitted variable bias, we instrument the religion of the deposed ruler with distance from the birthplace of Shivaji, a Hindu king who rebelled against the Muslim empire. We find other results consistent with the hypothesis espoused by some historians that when foreign occupiers dislodged Islamic rulers, Muslims showed resistance to the inventions/institutions introduced by the occupiers. Our paper is the first to document a similar effect among Hindus in India empirically.
Inequality and skewed distribution of `essential' goods remain problems even in the 21st-century world. We consider a general equilibrium framework where some goods are considered essential, whereas some are not. Essential goods are relevant for distributional concerns, up to a certain level of consumption. We then compare the effects of four policies on social welfare: subsidies, direct transfers, quantity rationing, and a fourth policy that we introduce and call Market Segmentation (MS). In MS, the market for essentials is segmented from non-essentials, i.e. they are not freely tradeable with each other. We find that if the relative number of low-income individuals in the economy is large and ``essentials" are consumed in-elastically, MS outperforms direct transfers and subsidies. We also show that in our model, MS weakly dominates quantity rationing. We discuss how market segmentation can help policymakers to deal with issues such as automation and superstar phenomenon (Scheuer and Werning, 2017).
"Are more news sources always good for democracy? Theory and Evidence from the US."
With Antonio Schiavone
Are multiple sources of news good or bad for political polarisation? At one level, one might expect more news sources to increase information about the candidates, making ideological affiliations less salient. On the other hand, more information sources can make voters more polarised because of ``correlation neglect'' in belief formation (Enke and Zimmerman, 2019). We test the effect of the closure of local newspapers at the county level on political polarisation in the US. Using an event-study approach, between 2006 and 2018, we find that the probability of splitting a voting ticket significantly decreases in counties that become a news desert (one or zero local newspapers). We also instrument the change in newspapers by the presence of Craigslist in a county since Craigslist costs advertisement revenue to newspapers without having any independent effect on voting behaviour. We find that split tickets increase when local newspapers close down in counties with more than two newspapers. Combining these results indicates a non-monotonic relation between the number of news sources and polarisation.
"Testing Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: Evidence from the Yemen Civil War."
Do media sources toe the line of state policy when covering news on foreign affairs? Noam Chomsky and E. Herman, in their book (1988) called 'Manufacturing Consent,' argue that media sources manufacture consent for US foreign policy by partially reporting news or omitting coverage of specific issues. There is some suggestive evidence in favour of this theory Qian & Yanagizawa-Drott, 2017. However, finding causal evidence is difficult for many reasons. First, it is unclear whether the media towed the government's line or pandered to the audience. Second, a country's foreign policy does not usually receive 'external shocks,' thus making it hard to find causal evidence.
To overcome these problems, I study the media coverage of the Yemen civil war by news channels catering to an international audience, before and after the rift between Qatar and the Saudi Arabian military coalition. The Yemen war began in early 2015. Saudi Arabia, with its coalition, including Qatar, intervened, supporting the Yemen government. Qatar remained with the coalition until June 2017, when they were forced out of it by the new crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman. If an average international viewer is neutral towards Saudi Arabia and Qatar, news channels have no incentive to change their coverage to pander to the audience. Also, given that a Saudi Arabian dictator takes the expulsion decision, it provides an 'external shock' to the foreign policy of Qatar. From being a Saudi ally in the Yemen war, Qatar now had an incentive to make the Saudi's look bad in the public eye. I find that Al-Jazeera English, an international media house headquartered in Qatar, exhibits a trend break in the coverage of the war in June 2017 (see, figure). Other media houses, for instance, the BBC, do not show any such break in trend. I am currently doing sentiment analysis of the news coverage of multiple news sources.
Huntington, 1996 claims, "In the modern world, religion is a central, perhaps the central, force that motivates and mobilises people." Organisations formed along religious lines have indeed played a significant role in mobilising people all over the world. Despite the growing importance of these religious-cultural organisations in different parts of the world, there is hardly any quantitative analysis on how these organisations affect socio-economic outcomes at the grass-root level. The lack of quantitative evidence on these organisations' impact partly stems from the fact that these organisations are either banned and operate underground, or often operate secretively, not sharing the details on their operations.
This project aims to contribute to this literature by studying the impact of the RSS's mobilisation on crimes against minorities in India. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is an organisation spreading and consolidating Hindu Nationalism in India. It has a close ideological and organisational connection with the BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party), the political party in power since 2014. By spending weeks with the organisation on the field, we obtained a novel data set on the work and membership of the RSS for Delhi in India. RSS aims to organise Hindus and imprint on them their ideology, which is done first and foremost in their daily assembly of its members shakhas. RSS' brand of Hindu Nationalism is often alleged to be anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. However, RSS claims that it tries to unite Hindus and discourage practices like untouchability. We are combining the RSS data set with a highly detailed data set on crime in Delhi. In this data set on crime, we have first investigation reports containing detailed information about the nature of the crime, the identity of the lodger, the victim, and the accused perpetrator. To address possible endogeneity concerns, we instrument the number of shakhas and membership of the RSS in a ward with the number of public parks in a ward. RSS shakhas take place in open grounds. With Delhi being heavily urbanised and densely populated, these open spaces are not readily available. Moreover, parks in a ward do not independently affect crimes against minorities. We have found a strong positive correlation between the number of shakhas/RSS membership and the number of parks in a ward in Delhi. Going forward, we intend to use this IV strategy and test the impact of RSS membership and shakhas on crimes against minorities.