Anna M. Wilke

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Columbia University and a Predoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. My work focuses on the comparative politics of developing countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In my dissertation, I explore the interaction of state and non-state efforts to establish order and combat crime. My research employs experimental methods and formal theory. I have conducted field work in South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia. My work has been supported by the Center for Study of Development Strategies (CSDS) and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL).



  • How Does the State Replace the Community? Experimental Evidence on Crime Control from South Africa

    Throughout the developing world, citizens often rely on mechanisms other than the state’s justice system to deal with crime. A common form of informal crime control is mob vigilantism, the physical punishment of criminal suspects by groups of ordinary citizens. This paper sheds light on the relationship between state capacity and citizens’ willingness to rely on state rather than informal justice mechanisms. Citizens who perceive an increase in the capacity of state institutions may expect them to provide better enforcement services and may voluntarily substitute away from vigilantism. A more capable state may also have a greater ability to punish perpetrators of vigilante violence. I present results from a field experiment in South Africa that creates variation in the capacity of police to locate households. Findings from mid- and endline surveys suggest households exposed to an increase in police capacity became more willing to rely on police and less willing to resort to vigilantism. Results from a mechanism experiment point towards increased fear of state punishment for vigilante violence rather than improved service quality as the link between state capacity and vigilantism.

  • Private Security and Public Policing

    Law enforcement is a core task of governments. Yet, governments are not the only actors that provide security. In some contexts, the private security industry employs more than twice as much personnel as public law enforcement. In this paper, I build a theoretical model that sheds light on the incentives of political parties to invest in law enforcement when citizens are able to rely on private alternatives. The model features a continuum of citizens who are differentiated by their ability to earn income through legal means. Citizens choose whether to commit crime and whether to purchase private protection. The level of public spending on the police is determined by either a left- or a right-wing political party. Contrary to the popular wisdom that conservative parties are tough on crime, the model predicts that both left- and right-wing parties may over- and under-invest in policing relative to the social optimum. Parties’ investment decisions ultimately depend on the wealth of society.

  • Gender Gaps in Support for Vigilante Violence

    Mob vigilantism - the punishment of alleged criminals by groups of citizens - is widespread throughout the developing world. Drawing on surveys with more than 10,000 respondents from hundreds of communities in Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa, we show that women are more likely than men to support mob vigilantism. This result runs counter to a large literature in public opinion that finds women are less supportive of violence than men across a variety of domains throughout industrialized contexts. Drawing on qualitative evidence, a vignette experiment in Uganda, and additional survey measures from Tanzania, we show that men and women differ in their beliefs about mob vigilantism. Men are more convinced that mob vigilantism creates risks of false accusation for those who do not commit crime. We trace this divergence in beliefs to differences in the extent to which men and women are at personal risk of being accused of a crime that they did not commit. Our results speak against the notion that women are inherently more peaceful than men and highlight the role that beliefs play in the link between gender and views about violence.

Published Articles

  • Countering Violence Against Women by Encouraging Disclosure: A Mass Media Experiment in Rural Uganda

    Comparative Political Studies, 53(14): 2283-2320, 2020.

    Violence against women (VAW) is widespread in East Africa, with almost half of married women experiencing physical abuse. Those seeking to address this issue confront two challenges: some forms of domestic violence are widely condoned and it is the norm for witnesses to not report incidents. Building on a growing literature showing that education-entertainment can change norms and behaviors, we present experimental evidence from a media campaign attended by more than 10,000 Ugandans in 112 rural villages. In randomly assigned villages, video dramatizations discouraged VAW and encouraged reporting. Results from interviews conducted several months after the intervention show no change in attitudes condoning VAW yet a substantial increase in willingness to report to authorities, especially among women, and a decline in the share of women who experienced violence. The theoretical implication is that interventions that affect disclosure norms may reduce socially harmful behavior even if they do not reduce its acceptability.

  • Reducing Violence against Women in Uganda through Video Dramas: A Survey Experiment to Illuminate Causal Mechanisms

    AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110: 615–619, 2020.

    A randomized trial was conducted in rural Uganda in which 112 villages were exposed to video dramatizations about violence against women (VAW) or placebo topics. The treatment videos encouraged viewers to report VAW. Eight months later, surveys show increased willingness to report in treatment villages as well as lower reported rates of VAW. The present survey experiment suggests a possible causal mechanism: the videos made allegations more credible so that those who come forward with reports are more confident that they will be believed.

  • A Placebo Design to Detect Spillovers from an Education-Entertainment Experiment in Uganda

    Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, 183(3): 1075-1096, 2020.

    Education-entertainment refers to dramatizations designed to convey information and change attitudes. Buoyed by observational studies suggesting that education-entertainment strongly in- fluences beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, scholars have recently assessed education-entertainment using rigorous experimental designs in field settings. Studies conducted in developing countries have repeatedly shown the effectiveness of radio and film dramatizations on outcomes ranging from health to group conflict. One important gap in the literature is estimation of social spillover effects from those exposed to the dramatizations to others in the audience members’ social net- work. In theory, the social diffusion of media effects could greatly amplify their policy impact. The current study uses a novel placebo-controlled design that gauges both the direct effects of the treatment on audience members as well as the indirect effects of the treatment on others in their family and in the community. We implement this design in two large cluster-randomized experiments set in rural Uganda using video dramatizations on the topics of violence against women, teacher absenteeism, and abortion stigma. We find several instances of sizable and highly significant direct effects on the attitudes of audience members, but we find little evidence that these effects diffused to others in the villages where the videos were aired.

Book Chapters

  • Field Experiments, Theory, and External Validity

    In: Luigi Curini, Robert Franzese (eds). The SAGE Handbook of Research Methods in Political Science and International Relations, Volume 2: 1007 - 1035, 2020.

    Critics of field experiments lament a turn away from theory and criticize findings for weak external validity. In this chapter, we outline strategies to address these challenges. Highlighting the connection between these twin critiques, we discuss how structural approaches can both help design experiments that maximize the researcher’s ability to learn about theories and enable researchers to judge to what extent the results of one experiment can travel to other settings. We illustrate with a simulated analysis of a bargaining problem to show how theory can help make external claims with respect to both populations and treatments and how combining random assignment and theory can both sharpen learning and alert researchers to over-dependence on theory.

Revise and Resubmit

  • Encouraging community action against teacher absenteeism: a mass media experiment in rural Uganda

    with Jasper Cooper, Donald P. Green and Benjamin Tan

    Revise and resubmit at Journal of Development Studies.

    Chronic teacher absenteeism is widespread in Uganda, with approximately 30% of public school teachers absent on any given day. Absenteeism and other dysfunctional aspects of Uganda’s public education system are often attributed to a lack of public oversight and parental involvement. In an effort to develop a scalable method of en- couraging community engagement on this issue, the present study assesses the extent to which entertainment-education videos increase willingness among Ugandans to take action against absenteeism. Working in collaboration with Ugandan screenwriters and local actors, we developed video dramatisations that depicted the problem of absenteeism and how parents mobilised to address it. We assess the persuasive effects of these dramatisations both in the lab, to gauge immediate effects, and the field, to gauge effects two months and eight months after a placebo-controlled media campaign attended by over 10,000 Ugandans in 112 villages. Although the persuasive effects are weaker in the field than the lab, the former remain substantial and statistically robust even after eight months. The demonstrated ability of entertainment- education to change public views on this issue sets the stage for policy experiments that test whether entertainment-education campaigns have downstream effects on absenteeism and public school performance more generally.

Under Review

  • Does Community Policing Build Trust in Police and Reduce Crime? Evidence from Six Coordinated Field Experiments in the Global South

    with Graeme Blair, Fotini Christia, Jeremy Weinstein, Eric Arias, Emile Badran, Ali Cheema, Robert A. Blair, Ahsan Farooqui, Thiemo Fetzer, Guy Grossman, Dotan Haim, Zulfiqar Hameed, Rebecca Hanson, Ali Hasanain, Dorothy Kronick, Benjamin Morse, Robert Muggah, Fatiq Nadeem, Lily Tsai, Matthew Nanes, Tara Slough, Nico Ravanilla, Jacob Shapiro, Barbara Silva, and Pedro Souza

  • Restoring Police/Community Relations in Uganda

    Chapter for edited volume.

Other Work in Progress

  • Can Community Policing Improve Police-Community Relations in an Electoral Authoritarian Regime? Experimental Evidence from Uganda

    Part of EGAP's Metaketa IV: Community Policing.

    Throughout the developing world, citizens often distrust the police and hesitate to bring crimes to their attention—a situation that makes it difficult for police to effectively combat crime and violence. Community policing has been touted as one solution to this problem, but evidence on whether it can be effective in developing country con- texts is sparse. We present results from a large-scale field experiment that randomly assigned a home-grown community policing intervention to police stations throughout rural Uganda. Drawing on close to 4,000 interviews with citizens, police officers, and local authorities and on administrative crime data, we show that community policing had limited effects on core outcomes such as perceptions of police, crime, and insecurity. We attribute this finding to a combination of low levels of compliance and resource constraints. Our study draws attention to the limits of community policing's potential to reduce crime and build trust in the developing world.

  • Federalism and Ideology

    Scholars have long considered the implications of the centralization and decentralization of political power on policy learning and externalities. This paper takes a different approach by focusing on the relationship between federalist arrangements and ideology. We model an infinite horizon interaction between an elected central executive and two local units for which policies can be set at either level. The executive decides how to allocate policy-making power between central and local governments to achieve current policy goals, control externalities, and protect against future policy reversals. The model shows that higher levels of decentralization can insure against bad electoral outcomes, and thus centralization is increasing in an incumbent’s electoral prospects. It also shows that allowing politicians to reallocate centralization over time can reduce welfare relative to fixing one centralization regime.