Chao-yo and Sol


Does State-Sponsored Violence Lead to Democratic Erosion? Evidence from a List Experiment in the Philippines

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

CBG 2.03, 2nd Floor, Centre Building


Dr. Sol Iglesias

Dr. Sol Iglesias

Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of the Philippines

Dr. Chao-Yo Cheng

Dr. Chao-Yo Cheng

Lecturer in Quantitative Social Research, Birkbeck University of London


Prof. John Sidel

Prof. John Sidel

Sir Patrick Gillam Chair in International and Comparative Politics, LSE SEAC Associate

SEAC hosted Dr. Sol Iglesias (University of the Philippines), and Dr. Chao-Yo Cheng (Birkbeck University of London) who presented Does State-Sponsored Violence Lead to Democratic Erosion? Evidence from a List Experiment in the Philippines. The talk was chaired by Prof. John Sidel (Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics).

How does state-sponsored violence induce democratic erosion? Populist strongmen often prompt the concern of democratic backsliding, as their actions may erode constitutional limits as a bulwark against authoritarianism. Nonetheless, Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office as Philippine president ended after the May 2022 elections in a largely peaceful transfer of power. While Duterte had remained popular in public polls, many argue that he weakened the independence of the judiciary, the legislature, and the media. His “war on drugs” campaign was controversial, as the campaign led to extrajudicial killings of an estimated 30,000 people. Despite his popularity, Duterte may have placed the country on a path back to authoritarian rule. This trend may continue under his successor Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son and namesake of the deposed dictator. Yet whether and how state-sponsored violence hollows out a democracy remains unclear. In this paper, we explore whether the observed immense popularity for both Duterte and his anti-crime campaign is systematically inflated because of these subjects’ potential sensitivity. Drawing on a novel list experiment conducted in Metro Manila and nearby areas, we find a plausible overestimation of the support for both the president and his anti-drug campaign by about 40 and 30 percentage points, respectively. Further analysis shows that such bias is more salient in provinces where the violence against “criminals and drug addicts” was more concentrated. The bias also tends to take place among the less educated, women, older, and poor respondents. Our findings suggest that state-sponsored extrajudicial killings may produce fear, perhaps more so for vulnerable social groups. The fear in turn compromises truthfulness in public opinion and undermines a weak democracy. 

This research was sponsored by the American Political Science Association (APSA) Asia Program.

A video recording of this event can be found here


Speaker and Chair Biographies:

Dr. Sol Iglesias is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines. She has a PhD in Southeast Asian Studies and an MA in Political Science from the National University of Singapore, as well as an MA in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a BA in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines. She is currently writing a book, The Dynamics of Political Violence in the Philippines, on the central-local interactions that produced violence in the democratic interregnum between the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship and authoritarianism under Duterte.

Dr. Chao-Yo Cheng is a Lecturer in Quantitative Social Research at Birkbeck University of London. His work applies various computational, quantitative, and qualitative methods to address a wide range of topics in the political economy of development and institutions, such as authoritarian governance, race and ethnicity, poverty and inequality, and the politics of local public goods provision. He has a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and an MA in Political Science from Columbia University. Before joining Birkbeck, he held fellowship positions at Tsinghua University (Beijing) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Prof. John Sidel is the Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Professor Sidel received his BA and MA from Yale University and his PhD from Cornell University. He is the author of Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (1999), Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century: Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Trajectories (2000), Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (2006), The Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia: A Reassessment (2007), Thinking and Working Politically in Development: Coalitions for Change in the Philippines (2020, with Jaime Faustino) and a forthcoming book Republicanism, Communism, Islam: Cosmopolitan Origins of Revolution in Southeast Asia.

Photo by Carmela Asistio on Unsplash