Feinstein International Center, Tufts University
University of California, Berkeley
Most research underscores the inefficacy of foreign aid as an instrument for influencing local perceptions of governance in countries affected by conflict. In contrast, we argue that aid can improve public perceptions of governing institutions during civil wars when those institutions arise from popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes. To evaluate our theory, we analyze new perceptions-based data, both quantitative and qualitative, which was collected from residents of 27 opposition-held communities inside Syria from 2014 to 2016. We find a positive statistical relationship between aid and perceptions of local institutions, but only when the populace does not believe the institutions were imposed by an outside actor. These results are further supported by placebo tests and a case study of Raqqa City, in which we show that aid boosted citizens’ views of the local councils until ISIS took over.