Yang-Yang Zhou - When Refugee Presence Increases Incumbent Support through Development

Encina Hall West, room 400

In higher-income democracies, studies have found that the growing presence of refugees pushes voters to punish incumbents and turn to far-right parties, as well as increase support for making migration policies more restrictive. Yet there is a dearth of studies on the political consequences of refugee-hosting in low-income countries, where about 85% of refugees reside. Theoretically, we discuss why findings from high-income countries may not generalize to the Global South. We then explore this question empirically in Uganda, one of the largest and more inclusive refugee-hosting countries. Combining information on refugee settlements with four waves of national elections data, we find that a one standard deviation increase in refugee presence leads to a 4.2-percentage point increase in incumbent vote share. Original longitudinal data on healthcare, schools, and roads coupled with national survey data suggest that the mechanism is positive externalities of inclusive refugee-hosting on local public goods.


Yang-Yang Zhou is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Her pronouns are she/her. She is studying national identity, conflict, and development in the context of migration, particularly within the Global South. From AY 2021 - 2023, she is on leave from UBC as a Harvard Academy Scholar and a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar.

A central focus of her research is to bring evidence to questions, and often misperceptions, within scholarly and public debates about the effects of migrants on host communities. These are the research questions that currently motivate her work: How does the settlement of refugees and other migrants affect local development and public goods provision, conflict, and voting behavior? For minoritized citizens who share ethnic and cultural ties with migrants, what explains why they are sometimes inclusive, but other times, they seek to differentiate themselves by excluding or "othering" migrants? And in contexts marked by anti-migrant prejudice and discrimination, can certain types of interventions — like prolonged intergroup contact between locals and migrants — work in reducing tensions? These projects span multiple countries in East Africa, Central Asia, North and South America, and they receive funding from the National Science Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the World Bank and UNHCR.

In a second strand of research, she designs and experimentally evaluates interventions in politically challenging contexts, alongside academic and non-governmental organization collaborators. This work includes the first individual-level randomized controlled trial of economic interventions at wartime, conducted in Afghanistan, and a series of experimental studies to understand the link between citizen self-efficacy and public goods participation in Tanzania. Because collecting data in these contexts often requires asking sensitive survey questions, she also develops statistical methods to protect respondent privacy and safety.

She received her Ph.D. in 2019 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Prior to Princeton, she was a social work case manager for the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, working with refugees and asylum-seekers from West and Central Africa, and South and Central Asia. 

She co-hosts the podcast Scope Conditions. She is a faculty affiliate of UBC Centre for Migration Studies, the Harvard Weatherhead Comparative Inequality and Inclusion Cluster, Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA), and Evidence in Governance and Politics (EGAP).