Welcome! I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brown University. I use field research and modern social science methodology to study the challenges associated with governance and representation in diverse societies, with an emphasis on identity politics and political parties.
My first (coauthored) book, Native Bias, examines the extent to which common norms and ideas can facilitate the inclusion of immigrants in democratic societies. The book was published by Princeton University Press (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior) in 2022.
My second book project, Severed Connections, investigates how political parties and the nature of candidate selection institutions influence the relationship between elected representatives and their constituents in new democracies.
My work on these two themes have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and Political Analysis, among others.
You can reach me via email: dannychoi [at] brown.edu.
Native Bias: Overcoming Discrimination Against Immigrants
Princeton Studies in Political Behavior, Princeton University Press, October 2022
Best Book Award, Experimental Research Section, APSA 2023
In the aftermath of the refugee crisis caused by conflicts in the Middle East and an increase in migration to Europe, European nations have witnessed a surge in discrimination targeted at immigrant minorities. To quell these conflicts, some governments have resorted to the adoption of coercive assimilation polices aimed at erasing differences between natives and immigrants. Are these policies the best method for reducing hostilities? Native Bias challenges the premise of such regulations by making the case for a civic integration model, based on shared social ideas defining the concept and practice of citizenship.
Drawing from original surveys, survey experiments, and novel field experiments, Donghyun Danny Choi, Mathias Poertner, and Nicholas Sambanis show that although prejudice against immigrants is often driven by differences in traits such as appearance and religious practice, the suppression of such differences does not constitute the only path to integration. Instead, the authors demonstrate that similarities in ideas and value systems can serve as the foundation for a common identity, based on a shared concept of citizenship, overcoming the perceived social distance between native and immigrants.
Addressing one of the most pressing challenges of our time, Native Bias offers an original framework for understanding anti-immigrant discrimination and the processes through which it can be overcome.
“Native Bias offers a compelling and hopeful analysis of the challenges facing countries grappling with increasing cultural diversity. Focusing on the integration of Muslims in Germany, a series of clever experiments reveals what it takes for majorities to stop discriminating against minorities. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in immigrant integration and multicultural politics!”— Rafaela M. Dancygier, author of Dilemmas of Inclusion: Muslims in European Politics
“This excellent book addresses one of the most important issues of our time: how to overcome the discrimination of immigrants and, ultimately, how to secure their successful integration into new societies. This is a major contribution not only to the study of immigrant discrimination and integration, but also to intergroup relations more broadly.”― Peter Thisted Dinesen, University of Copenhagen
“Setting a new standard for theoretically guided fieldwork, Native Bias presents an array of elegant experiments staged in dozens of cities and involving thousands of bystanders. These unobtrusive studies of discrimination do more than simply document the fact that natives look down on immigrants; they illuminate the conditions under which anti-immigrant discrimination diminishes, underscoring in particular the importance of challenging stereotypes that portray immigrants as hostile or indifferent to the values of the native majority.”— Donald P. Green, Columbia University
“This is a terrific book―one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Polished, theoretically sophisticated, and logically structured, it brings to bear new evidence and approaches on a critical contemporary topic.”― Daniel N. Posner, University of California, Los Angeles
“Based on an impressive battery of original field experiments and surveys, this work holds a powerful message: bias and discrimination against Muslim immigrants are widespread and persistent in Europe. Native Bias shows that these shortcomings can be overcome by shared civic norms and identities.”― Christian Joppke, University of Bern
Severed Connections: Intraparty Politics and Representation in Kenya
Juan Linz Prize for Best Dissertation, Democracy & Autocracy Section, APSA 2020
How does intraparty politics shape the quality of representation in
new democracies? This question has seldom been addressed in existing
work on political parties in the developing world, which has
traditionally emphasized the weakness of the party system and partisan
attachments, as well as mobilization strategies based on ascriptive
loyalties or clientelistic relationships as the key barriers to
representation. My first book project studies this important question by
reorienting our focus to the interaction between elected representatives
and their party leadership, whose support is critical for their
electoral survival. I show that the party leadership is motivated to
capture the candidate selection process to cultivate the ideal slate of
representatives that allows them to simultaneously pursue their party’s
electoral success while diffusing threats against their position within
the party’s ranks. The party leadership’s machinations, combined with an
electoral geography that often amplifies the centrality of candidate
selection, culminate in the emergence of two disparate pools of elected
representatives; a majority mostly disinterested in being responsive to
their constituents, and a smaller minority who remain steadfast in their
commitment to their democratic sovereigns. Drawing on 18 months of
fieldwork in Kenya, my project combines insights from in-depth
interviews of more than 80 past and current elected representatives and
senior party officials, analyses of original surveys, census data,
election returns, archival materials, ethnographic observation within
party organizations, a series of experiments conducted on more than 3000
primary voters in Kenya, and a text analysis of a corpus of 51000
My argument begins from a simple premise: that to understand the
relationship between intraparty politics and representation is to
understand what types of demands are placed on elected representatives,
and by whom. In addition to demands voters place for constituency
service, representatives face pressures from their respective political
parties. Moving beyond the simplistic assumption that parties are
singularly motivated by the need to win elections, however, I posit that
the party leadership — a select group of individuals including the party
leader herself who control the party organization — is also motivated by
the need to preserve and maintain their power over the party hierarchy.
The need to manage and balance these two divergent goals underpins the
logic by which the party leadership engineers the ideal “roster” of
individuals that are nominated as party candidates; privileging
“loyalists” at the expense of constituency-oriented “performers” in
constituencies where the electoral repercussions of such a strategy is
minimal and privileging “performers” in places where electoral success
of the party hinges on nominating popular candidates with a proven track
record of constituency service. The strategies deployed by the party
leadership in turn structure the incentives of representatives to invest
effort in serving their constituents, ultimately shaping the quality of
Policymakers' Abortion Preferences: Understanding the Intersection of Gender and Wealth
The Hijab Penalty: Feminist Backlash to Muslim Immigrants
- with Mathias Poertner and Nicholas Sambanis
- American Journal of Political Science. 2023. 67(2), 291-306. [pdf] [appendix] [dataverse]
- Gregory Luebbert Prize for Best Article in Comparative Politics, APSA, 2022
- Best Paper Award, European Politics and Society Section, APSA, 2021
- Press Coverage: [Süddeutsche Zeitung]
Temperature and Outgroup Discrimination
Increasing Intergroup Trust: Endorsements and Voting in Divided Societies
Navigating 'Insider' and 'Outsider' Status as Researchers Conducting Field Experiments
- with Sumitra Badrinathan, Sabrina Karim, Eunji Kim, and Yang-Yang Zhou
- PS: Political Science & Politics. 2022. 55(4), 754-758. [pdf]
Ethnic Bias in Judicial Decision-making: Evidence from Criminal Appeals in Kenya
Paying to Party: Candidate Resources and Party Switching in New Democracies
Linguistic Assimilation Does Not Reduce Discrimination Against Immigrants
Parochialism, Social Norms, and Discrimination against Immigrants
Fuzzy Sets on Shaky Ground: Parameter Sensitivity and Confirmation Bias in fsQCA
- with Christopher Krogslund and Mathias Poertner
- Political Analysis. 2015. 23(1), 21-41. [pdf]
Couples Therapy for a Divided America: Assessing the Effects of Reciprocal Group Reflection on Partisan Polarization
Overcoming America's deep partisan polarization poses a unique challenge: Americans must be able to disagree on policy while nonetheless agreeing on more fundamental democratic principles. We study one model of depolarization--reciprocal group reflection--inspired by marital counseling and implemented by a non-governmental organization,''Braver Angels.'' We randomly assigned undergraduate students at four universities either to participate in a Braver Angels workshop or simply to complete three rounds of surveys. The workshops significantly reduced polarization according to explicit and implicit measures. They also increased participants' willingness to donate to programs aimed at depolarizing political conversations. These effects are consistent across partisan groups, though some dissipate over time. Using qualitative data collected during the workshops, we inductively generate a new theory of depolarization that combines both informational and emotional components such that citizens, moved to empathize with an outgroup, become more likely to internalize new information about outgroup members.
Do Voters Respond to Cross-Cleavage Campaigning in Polarized Societies?
Are cross-cleavage campaigns effective in polarized societies? While social demographics and electoral rules in many countries compel candidates to pursue votes outside their own identity groups, the efficacy of such campaigns remains unclear in polarized contexts. We argue that cross-cleavage electoral outreach through in-person campaign rallies can inadvertently trigger inter-group differentiation and competition, resulting in the heightened salience of identity and depressed voter support for outgroup candidates. We assess these claims by exploiting the timing of an unscheduled campaign rally held by an outgroup presidential candidate in another ethnic group's stronghold during Kenya's 2017 election. Comparing survey respondents before and after the rally, we find that the outgroup candidate's post-rally favorability significantly decreased among ingroup voters, while the proportion of voters identifying in ethnic terms simultaneously increased. These findings contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced in democratic elections in socially divided societies.
- Under Review
- with Leo Arriola, Matthew Gichohi, and Ken Opalo [draft]
The Party's Hand in Primary Elections: Evidence from Party Primaries in a New Democracy
In response to mounting calls for internal party democracy, political parties in new democracies have increasingly allowed for mass participation in the candidate selection process. While these reforms should result in the diminishing influence of party leaders and the ascendancy of mass preferences over the selection of party candidates, few studies have examined whether this is the case. I investigate this question in Kenya, where major incumbent and opposition parties have adopted primary elections to select their candidates for legislative office. Drawing on insights from qualitative interviews with elected officials, original data on primary elections, as well as a survey and embedded experiments of primary voters, I show that contrary to expectations, parties wield significant influence over the outcome of primaries and that primary voters can be persuaded to select the party's favored candidate over other higher quality aspirants. These findings have implications for our understanding of the relationship between internal party democracy and democratic accountability in the developing world.
- Under Review [draft]
Mobile Communication Technology and National Identity in Sub-Saharan Africa
We examine how the expansion of mobile internet infrastructure affects national identity in sub-Saharan Africa. In diverse societies where elections are contested along ethno-communal lines, we argue that access to mobile internet undermines national identity because it facilitates voter exposure to the polarizing tendencies of internet-based social media and communication platforms. Applying a difference-in-differences design on mobile coverage maps and geocoded survey data of more than 50,000 African citizens, we show that access to mobile internet reduces identification with the nation by up to 5-7 percentage points. To establish support for our electoral mechanism, we exploit as-if random variation in the timing of individuals' survey interviews relative to presidential elections, during which we argue divisive and polarizing forces are at their peak. Our analysis shows that electoral proximity intensifies the negative effect of mobile internet. These findings highlight how technological innovations can inhibit the process of state-building in diverse societies.
- with Benjamin Laughlin and Anna Schultz [draft]
Democratic Backsliding on the Legislative Floor: Evidence from Zambia
How does democratic backsliding affect the behavior of incumbent party and opposition legislators in parliament? We investigate this question in the context of Zambia, which experienced a significant spate of oppression against the opposition party during the Presidency of Edgar Lungu. Using computational text analysis on a corpus of 1,292 parliamentary sessions from 2001—2021, we systematically analyze how legislative debates between incumbent and opposition players evolved during a period of democratic turmoil compared to periods of relative democratic stability. We specifically examine changes in the composition of legislators who speak up during these debates, the topics raised, as well as the extent of incivility across party lines. Our findings reveal how democratic backsliding manifests in the legislative arena, which has implications for freedom of speech and democratic discourse.
- with Fiona Shen-Bayh
LGBT+ Tolerance: Assessing the Impact of Judicial Decisions and Social Campaigns in Africa
Although LGBT+ individuals in some countries around the world are enjoying the gradual expansion of civil liberties and fundamental protections, in many other countries they are experiencing increasing government repression and social sanctions. In this context, it remains unclear to what extent popular attitudes are conditioned by the decisions of state institutions like courts or the social campaigns of civil society organizations -- in either conservative or liberal directions. We assess such dynamics through a three-wave panel survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of Kenyans throughout 2019. Respondents were asked about their attitudes toward LGBT+ individuals, including criminal penalties and social sanctions, before and after Kenya's High Court issued a decision upholding the country's colonial-era anti-sodomy law. Respondents were also randomly exposed to informational and empathy treatments modeled after those employed by LGBT+ rights organizations in Kenya. Our analysis shows that while the information and empathy treatments about LGBT+ individuals did have some sizable short-term effects consistent with prejudice reduction, the effects did not persist beyond the single survey round. Furthermore, results from the post-court decision survey round show that even when respondents were nudged to recall the experience of the information and perspective-taking treatments, they were no less likely to exhibit prejudicial attitudes towards LGBT+ individuals. Taken together, our findings provide evidence for how social campaigns and state institutions may constrain the effectiveness of prejudice-reducing interventions.
- with Leo Arriola, Matthew Gichohi, Siri Gloppen, and Malcolm Langford
Partisanship, Gender, and the Structure of Politician Networks in Zambia
Although women have entered government in African countries at an unprecedented rate over the past three decades, it remains unknown to what extent they have acquired the influence necessary to shape policymaking. Are women able to exercise personal influence to the same degree or in the same ways as their male counterparts? We argue that women tend to be less influential than men due to the structure of their personal networks with other politicians. Prior scholarship on African politics has demonstrated that political outcomes depend on the personal ties that connect politicians to one other. Based on a novel network survey among Zambian candidates, we demonstrate that women tend to be peripherally situated within networks. We find that women are systematically less likely to be connected to others in social or work networks among politicians. We also demonstrate that, while having fewer connections than men, women have connections with more important people in both social and work networks.
- with Leo Arriola, Justine Davis, Melanie Phillips, and Lise Rakner
Accountability Under Devolved Government: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya
Political decentralization in African countries has the potential to transform the relationship between citizens and their representatives. But scholars have yet to fully understand whether or how voters adapt to the accountability demands imposed by having to elect representatives at multiple levels of government. Do voter assessments of local politicians depend on coethnicity, as prior studies have shown with national politicians? Are voters willing to update their assessments of incumbent performance based on new information? To answer such questions, we examine how voter evaluations of local incumbents are conditioned by information and partisanship. An experimental survey design presented respondents in two Kenyan counties, Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia, with randomized positive versus negative information about the performance of incumbent county governors in the run-up to the 2017 elections. The results show that some voters are willing to update their vote preference based on positive information about incumbent performance. However, these effects are found almost exclusively in Trans Nzoia, where exposure to positive information significantly increases the likelihood of voting for the incumbent even among non-coethnics, non-copartisans, and respondents with prior negative evaluations of the incumbent. In Uasin Gishu, by contrast, we find no such effects. We postulate that the differences between the two counties may be driven by distinct patterns in the distribution of political support for the two incumbents.
- with Leo Arriola, Matthew Gichohi, and Ken Opalo
Lasting Effects of Transient Exposure to the Greek Refugee Crisis: Affective versus Cognitive Responses to Tragedy and Realistic Threat
We investigate whether transient exposure to refugees can durably affect native attitudes and behavior. Our case is Greece's refugee crisis, which saw a sudden influx of more than 1 million refugees in 2015 following the escalation of conflicts in the Middle East. We capitalize on the fact that the Aegean Islands---the epicenter of the refugee crisis---are home to the campus for the University of the Aegean (UA), which draws students from across Greece. We conduct a targeted survey (N=3,900) of student cohorts that attended university prior to or during the refugee crisis. Employing an instrumented difference-in-difference design and a matching strategy informed by distinctive features of the Greek university admissions system, we compare the current-day attitudes, preferences, and behavioral dispositions of students who attended the University of the Aegean and thereby had significant exposure to refugees during the crisis, to otherwise similar students who attended university elsewhere and thus had limited exposure. Our findings paint a more complex picture than existing work; students who attended UA during the crisis have more favorable attitudinal and behavioral dispositions towards refugees today, but also simultaneously support more restrictive immigration policy.
- with Nicholas Sambanis
Competing Frames and Policymakers' Preferences for LGBT+ Protection: Experimental Evidence from Zambia
When are politicians willing to extend formal social protections to LGBT+ minorities? While the protection of civil liberties and rights for LGBT+ communities continues to feature prominently in political debates around the world, there is limited understanding of the factors that shape the views of politicians who enact the laws that govern these protections. This study examines the effectiveness of two competing frames---that cast the protection of LGBT+ individuals either as a public health crisis or a human rights crisis---that advocacy organizations frequently employ to persuade policymakers to liberalize their position on LGBT+ minority protection. Drawing on a survey and experiment conducted among more than 600 political candidates who contested for national and local office in Zambia, we show that politicians are significantly more likely to respond to the human rights frame than the public health frame. These effects are primarily driven by male candidates and exist only when the crisis is explicitly framed in terms of its impact on the general public rather than the LGBT+ communities themselves. An analysis of open-ended responses provides suggestive evidence regarding the mechanism underlying these effects; the human rights frame appears to have reduced politicians' tendency to dehumanize members of the LGBT+ community.
- with Leo Arriola, Justine Davis, Melanie Phillips, and Lise Rakner