My current research combines field experiments, cognitive interventions, ethnographic observation, and survey data to examine the formation of civic habits at the local level.

Please email for current drafts of these working papers.

Beyond Information: The Effect of Individual Empowerment on Local Civic Engagement

What prompts citizens to engage in local civic activities such as recycling campaigns and electoral observation? Despite the critical role civic engagement plays in local political development, few studies have examined the psychological motivations behind civic actions in the context of weak collective capabilities.

Using an original field experiment in Southeast Ukraine (N=1,381), I demonstrate that individual empowerment constitutes a sufficient condition for civic engagement. Moreover, contrary to most theoretical expectations, the effects of personal empowerment on individual involvement in local civic activities are comparable to the effects produced by civic education.

This paper contributes to our understanding of the underpinnings of civic culture by demonstrating that individual and collective empowerment form two distinct pillars of civic action, and higher individual efficacy compensates for weak civic culture.

The results provide among the first experimental tests of the theory of democratic learning by showing that local civic engagement advances through opportunities for people to try various civic activities rather than by inculcating democratic values through civic education and top-down democracy promotion.

No Politics, Please! When Democracy Promotion Suppresses Political Engagement

The paper examines the effect of collective efficacy on the intentions to run for office or join a political party.

Using experimental and ethnographic evidence, I show that increasing individuals’ sense of collective efficacy without an accompanying change in the quality of institutions leads to political frustration and suppresses the reported willingness to participate in costly political activities.

Moreover, the increase in the sense of efficacy reduces engagement of “skeptics by burnout” — those citizens whose experience with democratic outcomes falls short of expectations — and increases engagement of “skeptics by ignorance” — political abstainers who harbor vague ex ante expectations on the quality of political institutions.

Personality Origins of Ideological Inconsistency

The paper explains how personality affects ideological preferences in the course of democratization.

Openness to experience predicts political liberalism everywhere but in Eastern Europe, where it prompts conservative beliefs. Why do personality effects established in Western data predict opposite political attitudes in non-Western contexts? Previous theories treated this atypical association as an outlier, a “blind spot”, an exception that proves the rule. Instead, I argue that it is the combination of openness of experience and liberalism that is truly exceptional because it stems from decades of political and economic stability in Western democracies.

Combining bootstrap regression modeling with interpretative qualitative coding of open-ended responses from an original demographically representative sample from Ukraine, I show that openness to experience predicts openness to any novel experience that credibly challenges the status quo, and in some contexts, this experience entails support for right-wing policies.