Anna M. Wilke

I am an Assistant Professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University. I study the comparative politics of developing countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Current work focuses on policing, crime and gender. My research employs experimental methods and formal theory, and I also write on research design. My work has been supported by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and has appeared in Science, Comparative Political Studies, the Journal of Development Studies and the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, among other journals. I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University. Prior to joining NYU, I was an Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and a postdoctoral fellow at Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP) at the University of California, Berkeley.


Peer-reviewed Articles

  • How the State Discourages Vigilantism – Evidence from a Field Experiment in South Africa

    Conditionally Accepted at American Journal of Political Science.

    Mob vigilantism - the punishment of criminal suspects by groups of citizens - is widespread throughout the developing world. This paper sheds light on the relationship between state capacity and citizens' choice between reliance on the state and vigilantism. I implemented a field experiment in South Africa that randomly varies the capacity of police to locate households. Findings from surveys conducted several months later suggest households that have become legible to police are more willing to rely on police and less willing to participate in vigilantism. An additional information experiment points towards increased fear of state punishment for vigilantism rather than improved police service quality as the likely mechanism. The broader implication is that citizens' willingness to cooperate with capable state institutions need not reflect satisfaction with state services. Such cooperation can also be due to the state’s ability to limit citizens' choices by ruling out informal alternatives like vigilantism.

  • Gender Gaps in Support for Vigilante Violence

    Comparative Politics, 55(2): 263-285, 2023.

    Mob vigilantism - the punishment of alleged criminals by groups of citizens - is widespread throughout the developing world. Drawing on surveys with more than 13,000 respondents from Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa, this paper shows women are more likely than men to support mob vigilantism. Qualitative evidence, a vignette experiment and survey measures suggest 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. I trace this divergence in beliefs to differences in men’s and women’s personal risk of being accused of a crime that they did not commit. The results speak against the notion that women are inherently more opposed to violence than men.

  • Encouraging Community Action Against Teacher Absenteeism: A Mass Media Experiment in Rural Uganda

    with Donald P. Green and Benjamin Tan

    Journal of Development Studies, 58(5): 915-930, 2022.

    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.

  • Community Policing Does Not Build Citizen Trust in Police or Reduce Crime in the Global South

    with Graeme Blair, Jeremy M. Weinstein, Fotini Christia, and 22 others.

    Science, 374(6571): eabd3446, 2021.

    Is it possible to reduce crime without exacerbating adversarial relationships between police and citizens? Community policing is a celebrated reform with that aim, which is now adopted on six continents. However, the evidence base is limited, studying reform components in isolation in a limited set of countries, and remaining largely silent on citizen-police trust. We designed six field experiments with Global South police agencies to study locally designed models of community policing using coordinated measures of crime and the attitudes and behaviors of citizens and police. In a preregistered meta-analysis, we found that these interventions led to mixed implementation, largely failed to improve citizen-police relations, and did not reduce crime. Societies may need to implement structural changes first for incremental police reforms such as community policing to succeed.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Editor-reviewed Publications

  • 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.

  • 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.

Working Papers

  • The Partisan Politics of Law Enforcement

    Tough-on-crime policies are often attributed to conservative parties. Yet, left-wing politicians sometimes invest heavily in law enforcement. This paper explores the incentives of political parties to spend on law enforcement when citizens can rely on private alternatives. The paper presents a model that features a continuum of citizens who are differentiated by income. Citizens choose whether to commit crime and purchase private protection. Police spending is determined by a left- or a right-wing party. The model predicts that both parties may over- and under-invest in policing relative to the social optimum. In relatively affluent societies where the rich are privately protected, right parties are prone to spend too little and left parties too much on policing. The model also shows that the availability of private protection increases the impact of election outcomes on social welfare in rich societies but limits it in poor ones.

  • Federalism and Ideology

    Classic arguments about federalist governance emphasize an informational or learning role for decentralizing policy authority, but in practice ideological outcomes frequently motivate this choice. We examine the role of ideology in the allocation of policy-making power by modeling an infinite horizon interaction between an elected central executive and two local governments. Decentralization reduces the executive's ability to set policy and control externalities, but potentially insures against future policy reversals. In this environment, partial decentralization is a common outcome. Complete decentralization arises when executives are unlikely to be re-elected, party polarization is high, and institutional hurdles to policy-making are big. These results help to clarify existing cross-national empirical findings on the determinants of centralization. The model also shows that a welfare-motivated constitutional designer may not want to allow politicians to re-allocate policy-making power over time.

  • Can Community Policing Improve Police-Community Relations in Low-Income Countries?

    Under review.

    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.

  • Restoring Police/Community Relations in Uganda

    Chapter for edited volume.

Work in Progress

Other Writings