Politics of territorial development

“Inclusive” distribution as electoral strategy. The politics of Turkish central government spending under AK Party rule. With M. Cammett (Harvard University), E. Sergenti (World Bank).

Most studies of distributive politics assume that politicians attempt to win support by strategic spending. Even if this is the central tendency, are some expenditure lines disbursed with less apparent favoritism towards particular regions? We suggest that governments intentionally spare some sectors from selective geographical targeting to convey the appearance of programmatic spending, while safeguarding others to reward supporters or punish opponents. Parties may find it politically advantageous to reserve some sectors for more “inclusive” spending to showcase their governance credentials, especially in policy areas that have garnered high public dissatisfaction and where voters can directly verify if promises have been kept. We analyze central government spending on all budget categories in Turkey’s 81 provinces for 2003-2015, a period when the ruling AK Party gained and consolidated power. Using fixed-effects and instrumental-variable Tobit estimators, we demonstrate that health spending has apparently become more inclusive, while other expenditures reward core strongholds.

Bringing politics (back) into Economic Geography. National electoral dynamics and local economic growth in Turkey.

Despite a large body of work on the role of institutions for local and regional development, economic geographers have frequently overlooked the role of politics. The paper aims to fill this gap, by arguing that studying political dynamics is key to understand the cumulative process of uneven regional development. Using data from Turkey over the period 2004-2013, the paper shows how electoral politics and government actions have had a significant effect on local economic growth patterns. The effect is substantive and increases in election years. Results also suggest that the government has influenced local development trajectories through the selective provision of state goods and regulation.

Paving the way: highway construction and support for democratic deconsolidation in contemporary Turkey. With M. Cammett (Harvard University), A. Filiztekin (Özyeğin University).

After an unexpected electoral victory in the 2002 elections, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has enjoyed an electoral majority ever since. The party’s initial success is relatively easy to explain. Yet, the question of how it has managed to transform the country into a fully-fledged competitive authoritarian regime under a strong and continuous popular backing presents a puzzle to scholars. Drawing on recent work on the rise of Nazi Germany, we hypothesize that public works and the provision of state goods may have been effective in boosting popular electoral backing, helping to entrench the incumbents. The paper exploits GIS analysis to map the recent expansion of the highway network, one of the flagship projects carried out during the AKP incumbency. We then analyse if distance to new roads increased district-level electoral support for the incumbents, in a period when they consolidated their hold on power and dismantled checks on their rule. Results will contribute to the broader literature on democratic deconsolidation. If the erosion of democratic institutions is a wide-ranging process that goes beyond redistribution our argument is that, to achieve such deep-reaching goals, illiberal leaders may first need to build strong societal support, and distributive politics may play a key role in that.


Geographies of political discontent

Political disenchantment and the urban-rural divide: An investigation of social and political attitudes across 30 European countries. With M. Kenny (University of Cambridge). WP version: link.

Despite growing concerns about increasing divisions between urban and rural Europe, relatively little research has explored whether there is a systemically rooted urban-rural divide in political and socioeconomic attitudes across the continent. This paper aims to fill this gap. Drawing on individual-level data from the European Social Survey, it explores potential linkages between place of residence and individual attitudes. Our results show how there are strong and statistically significant differences between the populations in these different settings. But this spatial divide does not operate in a binary fashion. It is more of a continuum, running from inner cities to metropolitan suburbs, towns, and the countryside. The differences are robust to controlling for a host of sociodemographic individual characteristics, and consistent across a broad range of issues. The paper explores the significance of these findings in relation to emerging political and policy debates about the spatial dimensions of political disenchantment.

The role of birthplace in determining political attitudes and behaviours. With N. Lee (LSE) and A. McNeil (LSE).

we investigate to what extent birthplace affects political attitudes and behaviours. The debate surrounding the importance of people versus place remains an unsettled multi-disciplinary issue. Some commentators would argue that place is unimportant in and of itself, and that, instead, political attitudes are driven by compositional effects (Maxwell, 2019). Alternatively, there is now a large literature focusing on ‘places that don’t matter’ (Rodríguez-Pose, 2018). We aim to contribute to this debate, investigating the importance of birthplace rather than one’s current location. This work adds to a now major research area across economics and political science looking at the role of socialisation on later life outcomes.

Divided we grow: Levels of development and the urban-rural polarisation of individual attitudes around the world. With N. Lee (LSE), J. Stein (Arctic University of Norway) and J. Terrero-Davila (LSE).

Within the literature on the geographies of political discontent, mounting evidence suggests that the polarisation of social and political individual attitudes along the urban-rural divide is an increasingly salient feature of countries in North America and Western Europe. Yet, little is known on whether the growing political divide between urban and rural areas mapped across the Atlantic is also prevalent around other parts of the world. Has the urban-rural split become a great global social divider? We draw on a novel cross-sectional dataset covering more than 60 countries. We show how there are marked and significant differences across all countries, and especially across richer ones. While these differences are explained in large part by the social and demographic characteristics of respondents, place of residence remain a significant predictor of individual attitudes even after controlling for observable composition effects.

Testing the link between migrants’ spatial concentration, poverty, and inequality: new micro-geographical evidence from the Netherlands. With C. Magante (GSSI) and A. Lumley-Sapanski (Nottingham University).

While there is growing evidence of how migrants across the EU are generally more likely to be at risk of poverty, fewer studies have been conducted to assess the current geographical dimension of such link. In this paper we aim to contribute to filling this gap. We explore the extent to which migrants’ spatial concentration is linked to neighborhood poverty in the Netherlands and flesh out potential determinants of such link. We exploit novel census data at high spatial resolution across five Dutch main cities to uncover that neighborhoods with a higher concentration of migrants show significantly higher levels of poverty compared to areas mostly inhabited by natives. Such link is heterogenous across ethnic groups, and strongly dependent on the level of participation into labor markets and household characteristics.

Policy delivery

Governance of policy delivery at the local level

Hosting to skim. Organized crime on the reception of asylum seekers in Italy. With P. Proietti (GSSI).

Growing scholarly attention is exploring the effects of organized crime on public policies. This paper draws on the case of Italy, and investigates the shadow impact of organized crime in influencing the geography of asylum seekers’ reception centers, which are publicly funded. We gather data on the location of reception centers and on the presence of mafia across Italian municipalities. We exploit exogenous variation at municipal level to instrument mafia intensity, and provide evidence of how the presence of mafia affects both the likelihood of hosting a reception center and the number of asylum seekers hosted. We then assemble an innovative dataset on public procurement for the set–up and management of reception centers, which are publicly funded but contracted to third actors. Statistical evidence and in–depth expert interviews suggest that the presence of organized crime is correlated to the use of direct, potentially less transparent procurement procedures over open calls.

‘Gone with the wind’. Organised crime and the geography of wind and solar farms in Italy. With A. Romarri (University of Barcelona).

The transition to low-carbon energy sources is considered as one of the key policies to tackle climate change and, to this aim, many European governments have been supporting the transition to renewable energy through subsidies. Growing anecdotal evidence suggests that the generosity of incentives has attracted the interests of corrupt politicians and criminal organisations, as the wind energy sector offer attractive opportunities for mafia to benefit from generous national and EU grant and tax subsidies and to launder illegal money via legal business structures. Yet, no academic research has systematically explored the link between organised crime and the renewable energy sector at the local level. Our project aims to fill this gap. We aim to combine, in a mixed-method approach, the econometric analysis of innovative GIS data on the geo-location of wind farms across Italy and on the local presence of mafia groups with fieldwork and in-depth interviews.