Work in progress


Felix Haass. “Selective university admissions as a strategy of autocratic rule.” Manuscript. 2022.

Universities present dictators with a dilemma: they are often fertile grounds for anti-regime protests, but also necessary for educating a skilled workforce that ensures economic productivity. Solving this dilemma through indoctrination and repression can be costly and inefficient. I propose a third strategy autocrats use to resolve the protest/productivity trade-off: strategic student admissions. By admitting more loyal students, indoctrination becomes easier and monitoring less costly. To counter efficiency problems, however, autocrats enforce admission criteria selectively: they value loyalty signals more in fields with a higher potential of generating dissent—history, arts, or culture—and less strongly in fields less prone to critical thinking and more relevant for economic productivity—medicine, technology, or sciences. I find empirical support for these implications using fine-grained, individual-level admission records from more than 300,000 university applications in the former German Democratic Republic. By unpacking a key strategy of autocratic rule this study yields important implications for understanding the role of universities for democratization.

Alexander De Juan, Felix Haass, Julian Voß. “Right-wing terror, public backlash, and voting preferences for the far right.” Manuscript, 2022.

Over the last decade, many western countries have experienced a surge in right-wing violence and a growing public support for populist radical right parties (PRRP). Previous research suggests that right-wing political mobilization can inspire right-wing violence. However, we know little on the opposite direction of this relationship: how does right-wing violence influence voting preferences for the far right? In this research note, we implement an ``unexpected event during survey’’ design to investigate this question. We draw on data from daily surveys on party preferences to analyze temporal shifts in support for the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) before and after the most intense terrorist attack in recent German history. Our findings indicate that right-wing terrorism can have substantive but short-lived negative effects on public support for PRRP. Results of exploratory analyses are in line with the argument that these effects result from a public backlash against PRRP that alienates potential voters.

Alexander De Juan, Felix Haass, Jan Pierskalla. “Decentralized networks and bureaucratic careers in autocracies.” Manuscript, 2022.

Previous research has demonstrated that ruling elites hand-pick top-level cadres from their personal networks to maximize loyalty. However, similar personal networks also exist among the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats on lower levels of the administrative hierarchy. We undertake the first empirical analysis of such networks, focusing on a least-likely case: the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The regime’s highly formalized socialist cadre policy should have left little room for a strong role of informal ties in bureaucratic careers. We draw on detailed biographical data on over 370,000 cadres to investigate if decentralized networks nonetheless shaped promotion practices in the GDR’s bureaucracy. We reconstruct the composition of local work collectives—a center of personal commitment, friendship, and mutual help in the GDR. We demonstrate a substantive role of decentralized career networks in cadres’ career trajectories, highlighting a so-far underappreciated element of personalized networks in autocracies.

Haakon Gjerløw, Felix Haass, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Jonas W. Schmid. “Measuring Symbolic Politics: Introducing New Data on Buildings and Monuments from across the World.” Manuscript, 2022.