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Work in Progress

  • Mixed Regimes and Economic Crises: Information Manipulation Strategies in Media Outlets
  • Local Media Organizations and Media Bias
  • Election and Electoral Competition: how do they affect rent distribution through state contracts?” (joint with Mustafa Kaba and Murat Koyuncu)

New Interest, New Measures, Old Problems: An Analysis of the Latent Dimension(s) of Democracy

(with Scott deMarchi, Jeremy Springman, Mateo Villamizar-Chaparro, Erik Wibbels), Working Paper

The third wave of autocratization has brought renewed attention to the study of regime type. This attention has been accompanied by a proliferation of new and more nuanced measures of democratic characteristics. We combine recent approaches using machine learning for dimensionality reduction with new democracy measures to investigate the latent dimensions of democracy. Using data from eighteen distinct democracy indices, we explore variation in theoretically-motivated dimensions of democracy across historical periods.

The Islamic Waqf: Instrument of Unequal Security, Worldly and Otherworldly

(with Timur Kuran), Working Paper

Until the modernizing reforms of the 19th century, the Islamic waqf played a massive role in the economy of the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa. Formally, it was a trust founded by an individual; income from the endowed assets financed designated services in perpetuity. The largest waqfs were established by members of high officials of the ruling dynasty to provide social services now supplied by municipalities or charitable corporations. These Islamic ‘‘state waqfs’’ have been the focus of case studies that make the waqf seem mainly a supplier of public goods. Using an original data set consisting of Istanbul waqf deeds from 1457-1923, this paper explores the functions of Islamic ‘‘regular waqfs’‘—waqfs founded either by elites below the top echelon or by commoners. The typical regular waqf had a relatively modest endowment and architectural footprint. In a setting characterized by weak property rights and legal system that favored males, Muslims, and state officials, it was established principally to provide material security to its founder and his or her descendants. Providing public goods was not among its major functions; neither was assisting the poor. Founders belonging to a disadvantaged group, including women, were especially likely to prioritize wealth sheltering. Regular waqfs thus served to perpetuate prevailing worldly inequalities through material security to the wealthy. They also aimed to create inequalities in the hereafter. Their major functions included financing prayers to expiate the sins of founders and their families.

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Paying the dues? Access, Congestion and Bribery

(with Diego Romero and Marco Morucci), Working paper

Bribery in public service delivery, regardless of its welfare consequences, is a fact of life for citizens in many developing countries. The existing literature on bribery and corruption has argued that citizens with low access to public services are more likely to pay bribes to make up for their lack of access. We argue that sometimes the opposite might be true, with individuals that have better access to public services being more likely to engage in corrupt exchanges with public officials, both because they are socially closer to the public officials, and because their baseline cost for accessing the public service is lower. Using administrative and survey data from Guatemala, we show that individuals that have easier access to public services are more likely to engage in bribery in several ways, as well as more willing to pay higher bribes, and less likely to report public officials for corrupt behavior. Our results imply that policy efforts to improve access to public services in developing countries might have the unexpected negative effect of increasing corruption if they are not accompanied by civil service reform.

Feel free to contact me ( for the most recent draft

Institutional Gridlock and Democratic Backsliding: explaining popular support for aspiring autocrats

Working Paper

Recently, the world saw a wave of elected leaders attack democracy. Why do people support leaders who remove checks and balances? I argue that aspiring autocrats gain more popular support when they present these institutions as obstacles to getting things done. In doing so, they exploit a critical tension between the possibility of gridlock and the abuse of power, which is inherent in democratic institutions. Using cross-national data and leveraging an original survey experiment from Turkey, I show that effective checks and balances decrease democracy satisfaction and that aspiring autocrats gain more popular support when they present these institutions as obstacles. More interestingly, respondents perceive the aspiring autocrats’ gridlock justification to dismantle checks and balances as a pro-democratic attempt to remove the obstacles to a policy-responsive regime. These results show that aspiring autocrats exploit a tension in democracies that makes it harder for citizens to perceive the threat they face.

Feel free to contact me ( for the most recent draft

Democratic Backsliding and Media Responses to Government Repression of Journalism: Machine Learning Evidence from Tanzania

(with Diego Romero and Erik Wibbels), Working Paper

One crucial feature of the ongoing global wave of democratic backsliding is that aspiring autocrats seek to influence the media, oftentimes through legal restrictions on the press and social media. Yet little research has examined how formal and social media respond to those legal restrictions targeting the free flow of information. We develop an original argument linking key characteristics of media sources to the regulatory environment and examine how the content and sentiment of their coverage responds to restrictive media laws. We test our claims using an enormous corpus of electronic media in Tanzania and employ two state-of-the-art neural network models to classify the topics and sentiment of news stories. We then estimate diff-in-diff models exploiting a significant legal change that targeted media houses. We find that critical news sources censor the tone of their coverage, even as they continue to cover the same issues; we also find that international news sources are unable to fill the hole left by a critical domestic press. The paper sheds light on the conditions under which the press can be resilient in the face of legal threats.

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Favor exchanges and pro-government media bias

Working Paper

A free press is a pillar of democracy, but in our era of democratic backsliding, many aspiring autocrats have undermined media freedom. Extant research has focused on censorship laws and state advertising as tools to capture the media. I argue state contracts in non-media sectors represent an important tool for influencing media coverage. Conglomerates with diverse economic interests increasingly own media outlets. State contracts provide aspiring autocrats with a valuable carrot to incentivize conglomerate-owned media for pro-government coverage. I test this argument by analyzing a vast corpus of newspaper articles from Turkey and exploiting a legal change, which increased the government’s discretion over distributing state contracts. Constructing a context-aware bias measure using machine learning and analyzing the universe of all state contracts, I show that conglomerate-owned newspapers are more pro-government than other newspapers. This bias grows with the government’s discretion. In return, these conglomerates secure state contracts on favorable terms.

Feel free to contact me ( for the most recent draft

Correlates of Deforestation in Turkey: Evidence from High-Resolution Satellite Data

Accepted for publication at New Perspectives on Turkey

During the last decade, environmental issues have gained saliency in Turkish politics, especially after the Gezi Park demonstrations. However, no systemic empirical evidence exists to inform us of the relationship between politics and deforestation in Turkey. This paper combines possible major drivers —political, economic, and climatic— of deforestation in Turkey with high-resolution satellite data on deforestation to conduct a systemic empirical analysis. The results show that districts with Justice and Development Party (AKP) mayors have higher deforestation — around a combined area of forty-two football pitches on average in a given district. Similarly, increased mining activities and newly built hydropower plants positively correlate with deforestation.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Electoral Responses to Proximity of Healthcare

(with Asli Cansunar and Gozde Corekcioglu), Forthcoming at the Journal of Politics

Do voters reward incumbents for the provision of public services? In this paper, we study the political economy of catchment areas of public services to answer this question. Rather than examining the binary relationship between health care provision and electoral returns within politically defined borders, we study whether increases in geographic accessibility of health care providers and decreases in congestion in services attract votes for the incumbent. Leveraging a health care reform in Turkey, which substantially impacted the geospatial distribution of public health clinics in Istanbul, we find that decreases in walking time and improvements in congestion levels in the closest clinic from a polling station significantly increase vote share of the AKP, the incumbent party, at that polling station. We also show that poorer communities were more responsive to improvements in spatial accessibility to the local clinics.

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Truth or Dare? Detecting Systematic Manipulation of COVID-19 Statistics

(with Asli Cansunar and Gozde Corekcioglu), Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Vol. 1: No. 4, pp 543-557.

Which countries manipulate COVID-19 statistics? Does the party ideology of local governors affect the probability of data manipulation at subnational levels? How does democratic quality affect statistical transparency during the pandemic? In this article, we apply election fraud detection methods — various digit-based tests that exploit human biases in generating random numbers — to the daily announced official numbers of new and cumulative coronavirus infections. First, we use digit-based tests to identify countries that likely manipulated their pandemic statistics. We then move on to examine the empirical relationship between democratic quality and data transparency. We find suggestive evidence that data manipulation occurred in China, the United States, Russia, and Turkey. Second, we show that non-democracies, as well as countries without free and fair elections, are more likely to release data that display signs of statistical malpractice.

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, , 1900

  • Sabancı University, Instructor:
    • Research Methods for Political Science and International Relations (undergraduate) (Fall 2022, Fall 2023).
    • Advanced Research Methods and Data Analysis in Political Science (graduate) (Spring 2023, Spring 2024).
    • Political Economy (graduate/undergraduate) (Spring 2023, Fall 2023).
    • Quantitative Research Methods (Spring 2024)