Existing research generally finds that foreign aid is ineffective in bolstering perceptions of governance, especially in conflict-affected countries. Yet while most studies have focused on aid provided to state actors, this paper examines the link between aid and popular support for governing institutions in rebel-held territory. We argue that aid can improve opinions of these institutions when they are embedded in the demographic, aspirational, and experiential solidarities of their communities. To evaluate our theory, we analyze new perceptions of data collected from residents of 27 rebel-held communities inside Syria from 2014 to 2016. We find a modest but positive effect of aid on perceptions of local institutions, but only when the institutions were not imposed by outside actors. These results are further supported by a case study of Raqqa City, which shows that aid only boosted citizens’ views of the local governing body when it was embedded within the community.
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