International aid & local legitimacy: The impact of subnational governance programmes in Afghanistan

Project Active from to State


There is an emerging consensus that establishing legitimate governance in fragile states is critical for creating effective and resilient state institutions. While a growing body of research on fragile states suggests that acts of corruption by local elites and incidents of insecurity may undermine efforts to build public trust between governments and citizens, there is still a lack of statistically compelling evidence about the relative importance of these factors and their impact on government legitimacy. Are citizens in fragile states willing to tolerate a certain amount of corruption in exchange for security, or does corruption ultimately undermine security by increasing public support for anti-government forces? To what extent do demographics, education, and socio-economic status play a role in shaping public preferences? Are public expectations with regards to political leadership different in regions with a relatively higher capacity to deliver public goods?

Based on original fieldwork in Afghanistan, we intend to use a series of survey experiments to shed light on determinants of public legitimacy. The experiments will measure how incidences of corruption and insecurity impact public trust in government institutions at local and central levels, respondent leadership preferences, and the inclination of respondents to seek an ‘exit’ option through migration.


Leaders of fragile states and international donors have increasingly realised the importance of developing legitimate state institutions at national and subnational levels, and more aid has been diverted to this issue in recent years. However, governments and policymakers continue to lack systematic evidence about the priorities, expectations, and preferences of the public with regards to political leadership. By shedding light on public preferences, our project will contribute to an important debate about the effects of corruption and insecurity on public legitimacy and provide policymakers with rigorous evidence to inform leadership appointments, develop strategies to manage excessive migration, and prioritise aid more effectively.


We will collect survey data from 1600 respondents in Afghanistan to illuminate drivers of legitimacy in four different provinces and across different demographics. In the survey, respondents will receive a series of randomly selected primes on corruption or insecurity and will subsequently be asked:

  • To rate levels of trust in government institutions and insurgent groups
  • To rank leadership preferences from a selection of hypothetical characteristics
  • To express their level of agreement with a statement on Afghan migration

A control group of respondents will receive no treatment but will be asked the same questions. We will also collect supplementary socio-economic and demographic information from all respondents, as well as information on local government capacity.

The survey will be carried out in two relatively high-capacity and two relatively low-capacity provinces of Afghanistan using a random sample of 400 surveys per province. The survey findings will be supported by qualitative research and secondary data collected from Afghanistan.