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Journal of Peace Research

2017, Vol. 54(3) 397411

Perils of pluralism: Electoral violence The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permission:
and incumbency in sub-Saharan Africa
DOI: 10.1177/0022343316687801

Charles Fernandes Taylor

Department of Political Science, Denison University
Jon CW Pevehouse
Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Scott Straus
Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Why do some multiparty elections lead to political violence while others do not? Despite extensive literatures on
democratization, civil war, and violence against civilians in civil war, the topic of electoral violence has received less
attention. We develop a set of theoretical propositions to explain this variation, testing them on an original dataset on
African elections from 1990 to 2008. We find that elections in which an incumbent presidential candidate is running
for re-election are significantly more likely to experience electoral violence, both prior to the election and after voting has
taken place. We argue that clientelism is behind this pattern, and that clients often resort to electoral violence to protect
a reliable incumbent patron. On the other hand, when an incumbent candidate is not running for office, we argue that
clients are less willing to assume the risks of participating in electoral violence because candidates in the election have not
established a record of delivering patronage at the executive level. We further find some evidence that pre-existing social
conflicts increase the risk of pre-election violence. We suggest that this finding is due to the tendency of political elites to
mobilize voters around pre-existing political and economic grievances to promote their candidacies, in turn heightening
tensions and divisions. We also examine, but find little support for, a number of other possible determinants of electoral
violence, such as regime type, income level, international observers, ongoing civil war, pathway to power, and first
elections after civil war. The article contributes not only to a small but growing literature on electoral violence but also to
a burgeoning literature on political behavior in African elections.

Africa, clientelism, elections, electoral violence, patronage, political violence

Introduction Hafner-Burton, Hyde & Jablonski, 2014; Fjelde &

Hoglund, 2016; Salehyan & Linebarger, 2015).1 Yet elec-
In the past two decades, the studies of democratization and
tions in multiparty systems, especially in states that recently
political violence, especially civil war, have been dominant
themes in comparative politics. However, despite
an important line of inquiry on whether regime character-
istics contribute to the onset of civil war (Carey, 2007; This despite some excellent case-specific studies, such as Boone
Fearon & Laitin, 2003; Hegre et al., 2001; Saideman (2011); Boone & Kriger (2010); Klopp & Zuern (2007); Mueller
et al., 2002; Snyder, 2000), the topic of electoral violence
has received less empirical and theoretical attention until Corresponding author:
recently (Bekoe, 2012; Dunning, 2011; Daxecker, 2012;
398 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

transitioned to more competitive politics, often trigger political campaigns often gravitate to contentious issues
violence during electoral campaigns or after results are and may therefore exacerbate existing conflicts. After the
announced. Such violence is often short of civil war election, the dynamics are somewhat different. Other
but nonetheless can claim many lives and can severely than the presence of an incumbent candidate, none of
undermine the legitimacy of electoral processes and our variables consistently predict post-election violence.
the governments formed in their aftermath. Electoral Finally, we find that a number of plausible factors
violence is one of the perils of political pluralism, and linked to other types of political violence are not
understanding its dynamics has important theoretical clearly related to electoral violence. Regime type,
and practical implications. poorer countries, the presence of international observ-
In this article, we focus specifically on electoral vio- ers, violent pathways to power, first elections after a
lence in sub-Saharan Africa. The region offers an civil war, and elections during ongoing civil wars do
unusual opportunity to hold a number of factors con- not make African countries in our dataset more vul-
stant given a nearly region-wide transition from single- nerable to electoral violence.
party to multiparty rule starting in the early 1990s. The The article proceeds as follows: after developing our
African democratization process since the end of theoretical argument, the next two sections describe the
the Cold War has been the subject of a number of dataset and report key descriptive findings. Thereafter,
studies (Arriola, 2012; Bratton & van de Walle, we present the multivariate model, assessing its robust-
1997; Cheeseman, 2015; Diamond & Plattner, 2010; ness against the introduction of other variables tapping
Lindberg, 2006). While there is common recognition alternative hypotheses. We conclude by discussing impli-
that the cumulative record on Africas grand democratic cations and avenues for further research.
experiment is mixed (Carothers, 2006; Lynch & Craw-
ford, 2011; Reddy, 2008), the specific issue of electoral
violence has not been theorized or studied extensively, Theoretical argument
especially using cross-national data (for exceptions see Violence exists as one of several strategies available to
Basedau, Erdmann & Mehler, 2007; Bekoe, 2012; influence election outcomes in regimes where demo-
Collier, 2009; Scarritt, McMillan & Mozaffar, 2001; cratic institutions are new or relatively weak (Mares &
Fjelde & Hoglund, 2016). Our study thus contributes Young, 2016; Schedler, 2002). In the pre-election
to the literature on democratization in sub-Saharan period, violence can depress turnout among opposition
Africa. supporters or coerce voters into supporting the incum-
Our multivariate analysis finds that presidential bent (Bekoe, 2012). Violence can also intimidate oppo-
incumbency is a key determinant of Africas electoral sition parties into boycotting the election, effectively
violence. The dominant institutional form of African ensuring an incumbent victory (Hafner-Burton, Hyde
politics is clientelism, or what many in the Africanist & Jablonski, 2014). In the post-election period, govern-
literature call neo-patrimonialism (Arriola, 2012). This ments may use violence to crack down on any opposition
institutional form conditions the stakes of elections. In protest against the result.
the context of strong political clientelism, the personal However, perpetrating electoral violence is not cost-
networks that develop around an incumbent are heavily less (Van Ham & Lindberg, 2015). Governments that
invested in the re-election of their patron. Those whose use violence against their own citizens risk alienating
access to resources depends on the person of the incum- segments of the public. Opposition parties that engage
bent will resort to violence, often through the states in violence call into question their own democratic cre-
security forces or ruling partys militia, to guarantee pri- dentials. Outcry against electoral violence inevitably
vileged access to power and patronage. Among all the weakens the legitimacy of an election victory and dam-
factors we investigate, the only one that is robustly asso- ages the reputation of the government both at home and
ciated with both pre- and post-vote violence is whether abroad (Bekoe, 2012). For governments that depend
an incumbent is seeking re-election. more on foreign aid, violence can lead to negative finan-
We argue further that the logic of violence during the cial repercussions. Furthermore, perpetrators of violence
period of electoral competition is different from the logic face the risk of future prosecution for their actions, either
of violence after results have been announced. Our sta- by domestic or international tribunals. Thus, electoral
tistical results and case analysis bear this out. In the pre- violence is not simply one of many tactics in nascent
election period, we find some evidence that pre-existing multiparty regimes; committing violence is particularly
social conflict correlates with violence. We suggest that risky and costly.
Taylor et al. 399

In this article, we contribute to a new but growing weakens institutions in illiberal systems, making electoral
literature examining the causes of electoral violence from violence more likely. Fjelde & Hoglund (2016) argue
a cross-national perspective. Among previous studies, that the winner-take-all nature of majoritarian electoral
Hafner-Burton, Hyde & Jablonski (2014) argue that laws magnifies the effects of clientelistic systems by
incumbents resort to violence when they judge their excluding losers from any patronage, thus increasing the
opponents popularity to be relatively high and when likelihood of violence. Our own analysis focuses on the
they face few institutional constraints. Daxecker (2012) importance of clientelism as it relates to incumbency.
argues that the presence of international election moni- Incumbents do not employ violence as an exclusive
tors in African elections can increase the likelihood of strategy. Incumbents have many advantages to secure
post-election violence when they draw attention to elec- victory. They may distribute patronage to secure elite
tion fraud. Fjelde & Hoglund (2016) suggest that major- support, co-opt challengers, or buy votes. Incumbents
itarian electoral rules make election violence more likely. may manipulate the media or electoral institutions.
In their sample of African countries, Salehyan & Line- Empirically, incumbency advantage is pronounced in
barger (2015) argue that competitive elections held in Africa; when incumbents run, their parties perform sig-
illiberal systems are the most prone to violence. nificantly better than in the alternative (Cheeseman,
In our statistical tests that follow, we control for these 2015: 182). However, there will be elections when
alternative explanations and show that, while they may incumbents and their elite clients fear that the nonvio-
help us explain violence, they do not attenuate our find- lent tools at their disposal cannot guarantee victory. We
ings concerning incumbency. We believe a complemen- argue that, in those circumstances, incumbents and the
tary mechanism is at work, driving much of the cross- elites around them are more likely to turn to electoral
national and over-time variation. Using new data to violence as a strategy to retain power.
assess these arguments, we show that political elites are By contrast, when an incumbent candidate is not
willing to use electoral violence when the power of a running for office, the maintenance of existing patronage
reliable incumbent patron is at stake. We argue that networks is more uncertain, as no candidate in the elec-
recourse to violence will be more common when an tion has a record of rewarding loyal clients (Cheeseman,
individual incumbent is seeking re-election. We expect 2010). While such elections are likely to be closer,
that the mechanism is pronounced in personalized, cli- thereby raising the propensity for violence, non-
entelistic, presidential systems that characterize most incumbent electoral candidates are less likely to have
African states. Our emphasis on the importance of enough confidence in members of the ruling party or
patronclient relationships is consistent with a wide security forces to call on them to commit violence. Simi-
swath of scholarship on political behavior in Africas larly, those members of the ruling party or security forces
multiparty regimes (Arriola, 2012; Bratton & van de who might otherwise be willing to perpetrate violence to
Walle, 1997; Lynch & Crawford, 2011). In these coun- protect an incumbent may not be confident of any future
tries, incumbents will have cultivated a network of patronage rewards. Even if a president has handpicked a
clients who depend on the person of the incumbent to successor, or a candidate comes from the same party as
secure their political or commercial advantages. These an incumbent, the relationship between candidate and
advantages can include access to lucrative state rents, the would-be violent actors will involve greater uncer-
rights to agricultural land and other valuable business tainty. The new candidate will likely have his or her own
enterprises, and protection from prosecution for corrup- preferences for which regime insiders stand to benefit
tion or other illegal behavior. In close elections, incum- from the new government, and members of the existing
bents will be more willing to call on a network of regime will exercise caution until the new presidents
interested elites to commit risky, violent behavior, and preferences for patronage distribution are revealed. In
those elites are more likely to accept the proposition, these circumstances, the would-be violent actors are less
because of a prior, mutually beneficial patrimonial rela- willing to incur the risks associated with committing
tionship. As former Cote dIvoire President, Laurent violence. This mechanism should operate in both pre-
Gbagbo, allegedly told his inner circle in what became vote and post-vote settings, as entrenched elites should
a violent electoral period: If I fall, you do too (OTP, be willing to promote electoral violence both to influence
2015: 21). voters and to quell any post-election protests challenging
Some previous studies of election violence in Africa the result.
also highlight the role of clientelism. Salehyan & Several countries in the study fit this general pattern.
Linebarger (2015) suggest that neo-patrimonialism For example, electoral violence has occurred in
400 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

Equatorial Guinea in all six elections in the dataset. All of candidates would have been less willing to call on key
these have featured the incumbent President Teodoro actors to commit violence, and the previous benefici-
Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who came to power in aries of government patronage would have been less
1979 and now stands as the longest serving head of state willing to assume the costs of committing violence if
in Africa. Obiangs government has enjoyed windfall oil they were unsure of continued access to largesse under
revenues since the mid-1990s, enriching a political elite a new patron.
largely made up of members of the presidents Esangui Kenya also illustrates our causal story. Since Kenya
clan (Wood, 2004). Several opposition parties have been reintroduced multiparty elections in 1992, the country
co-opted into the governments patronage network has held five presidential votes. Three of those were quite
through access to oil money and other state rents. How- violent in 1992, 1997, and 2007. Elections in 2002
ever, the president also faces determined opposition, and and 2013 were not or at least less so.2 Our theory gives
those actors are regularly victims of state violence. We insight into one reason for this: in the violent electoral
argue that the president is able to call upon key actors, years, incumbents were seeking re-election, while in the
and those actors are willing to commit violence, because nonviolent and less violent years they were not.
of an existing established and lucrative patronage net- Elections in 1992 and 1997 were cases in which estab-
work built around the person of the president. lished elites within the ruling party promoted electoral
Elections in Zimbabwe are also regularly violent, violence against supporters of the opposition to ensure
especially after the ruling Zimbabwe African National the re-election of Daniel Arap Moi, the longtime incum-
Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) under Robert bent. After assuming power in 1978, Moi ran a highly
Mugabe began to encounter more formidable opposition personalized, patronage-based government that
from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). rewarded loyal elites with access to a variety of lucrative
Elections in 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2008 all witnessed commercial enterprises (Branch, 2011). The return of
high levels of electoral violence, with members of the multiparty politics in the early 1990s was met with stiff
security services and pro-government militias beating, resistance from regime loyalists, who helped ensure
killing, and torturing members of the opposition and Mois re-election in 1992 and 1997 by mobilizing gov-
their suspected supporters. ZANU-PFs ability to dis- ernment supporters to violently remove opposition sup-
pense patronage is critical in maintaining its hold on porters from critical pro-government constituencies
power and motivating the perpetrators of election vio- (Kamungi, 2009).
lence. However, unlike Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, In 2002, having reached the end of his term limit,
Mugabe does not enjoy the ability to distribute oil rents. Moi picked political newcomer Uhuru Kenyatta as his
Instead, the Zimbabwean government manipulated successor to run against opposition candidate Mwai
access to commercial farming plots. Access to land has Kibaki. As the son of independence leader Jomo Kenya-
been a major source of tension in Zimbabwe since the tta, Uhuru Kenyatta was heir to one of the largest for-
end of white rule in 1980 (HRW, 2008). With a falter- tunes in Kenya. However, Mois political clients were
ing economy and strengthening opposition, the govern- divided over whether to support Kenyatta, whose prefer-
ment encouraged peasants, unemployed youth, and ences for distributing future patronage among compet-
ruling party supporters to invade white-owned farms ing interests were unclear (Cheeseman, 2010).
while refusing to compensate white farmers for the land Ultimately, many of Mois long-time allies refused to
that had been seized. In addition to encouraging the support Kenyatta. Kibaki emerged victorious in an elec-
forcible seizures, the government adopted a more radical tion that was characterized by much less violence than
official land resettlement scheme, acquiring and reallo- elections in 1992 or 1997.3
cating 6.4 million hectares of farmland between 2000
and 2002 (Boone & Kriger, 2010: 183). The main ben-
eficiaries were the ruling elites, party officials, cabinet 2
The 2013 election is not in the dataset, but the lack of both an
ministers, other senior officials, soldiers, and military incumbent candidate and major violence match the theorys
brass (Boone & Kriger, 2010: 183). We suspect that predictions.
proponents of Zimbabwes electoral violence had a direct The 2002 election was also unusual in that both presidential
stake in maintaining Mugabe as president. candidates were from the same ethnic group (Kikuyu), and thus
some of the ethnic dynamics of other presidential contests were not
The counterfactual of these cases is that had an present. While this may have contributed somewhat to the lack of
incumbent not sought re-election, electoral violence electoral violence (as suggested by two anonymous reviewers), we
would have been less likely. Non-incumbent argue that the role of incumbency was more important. Although
Taylor et al. 401

The election in 2007 witnessed relatively low pre- circumstances turn violent, our claim is that incumbents
election violence, but post-election violence was severe, and their supporters are more willing to accept the risks
with more than 1,000 reported deaths (CIPEV, 2008). associated with committing violence when an established,
The fierce debates surrounding the integrity of the personalistic patronage network is already in place.
announced result saw both the incumbent Kibaki and
the challenger, Raila Odinga, claim victory. As Kibaki
was declared the winner by the electoral commission, The African Electoral Violence Database
supporters of Odinga began protests in Nairobi as well (AEVD)
as violent expulsions of Kibaki supporters from opposi- For our cross-national analysis, we use a unique dataset
tion strongholds. This in turn triggered a violent crack- on electoral violence in Africa that covers the period from
down by government security forces as well as the 1990 to 2008, entitled the African Electoral Violence
mobilization of pro-government militants by regime Database (AEVD).4 To the best of our knowledge, there
supporters, who included politicians and businessmen is no other published database that specifically codes for
utilizing criminal gangs to conduct retaliatory attacks electoral violence with the level of detail in the AEVD.
against alleged supporters of the opposition (CIPEV, One limitation of existing studies is an inconsistent def-
2008: 347). inition of electoral violence. In one study, for example,
Thus, while Odinga supporters initiated post-election violence includes civil wars, riots, political strikes, and
protest, our theory holds that, when faced with the pros- assassinations (Collier, 2009). In Batess (2008: 147)
pect of defeat, Kibaki felt confident enough in his clients, analysis of state failure in Africa, the dependent variable
and his clients were willing, to commit violence because for violence is the formation of militias. Lindbergs
of the existence of an established patronage relationship. (2006) database on democratization in sub-Saharan
Had there been no incumbent candidate, the post- Africa is similar to ours. Lindberg codes (among many
election violence would not have materialized or been other factors) for whether an election was peaceful,
less severe, we suggest. Political elites, unsure of any whether there were isolated incidents of violence, or
future rewards, would not have been willing to incur the whether there was a campaign of violence. While we
costs associated with mobilizing the security services and build on Lindbergs important work, his primary pur-
pro-government militias to uphold a potentially fraudu- pose is not to explore the dynamics of electoral violence,
lent result. Moreover, the non-incumbent would not and we seek to improve on it by creating further distinc-
have had enough confidence in the loyalty of the security tions in the dependent variable.
forces to effectively ask them to murder civilians. Other datasets that assess election violence on a cross-
Our theory does not explain every circumstance. Some- national basis include the National Elections across
times electoral violence occurs when incumbents do not Democracy and Autocracy (NELDA) dataset (Hyde &
seek re-election, and sometimes violence does not occur Marinov, 2012) and the Social Conflict Analysis Database
when incumbents seek office for another term. In addi- (SCAD) (Salehyan et al., 2012). In its worldwide coverage
tion, we do not mean to suggest that party incumbency is of elections, NELDA codes a variety of newspaper, news
insignificant; even if the person of an incumbent is not wire, and academic sources for whether there was any
running, those politicians from the ruling party enjoy government harassment of the opposition before the vote
significant advantages in the election. But sometimes (Nelda15), whether there was any significant violence
party or personal incumbency is not enough relating to the elections that resulted in civilian deaths
to guarantee victory. For understanding when such (Nelda33), and whether there were election-related riots
after the vote (Nelda29). While the NELDA data are
excellent for some purposes, our own AEVD data focus
Uhuru Kenyatta is a Kikuyu, relatively few Kikuyus supported his specifically on electoral violence in Africa, and as discussed
candidacy in 2002, and he drew his support largely from Mois ethnic below, offer a somewhat finer measurement of violence
following of traditionally pastoralist ethnic groups in the Rift Valley before and after the vote than does NELDA.5
and North Eastern Provinces (Steeves, 2006). Since these Moi
loyalists were responsible for much of the violence in 1992 and
1997 electoral contests, we ought to expect that they would A more detailed description of the data is available in Straus &
perform the same role for Kenyatta in 2002. This suggests to us Taylor (2012).
that the lack of violence was because Kenyatta was perceived to be Similarly, Kelley (2012) develops a dataset on the quality of
a largely untested patron rather than because the two candidates were elections that includes the presence of violence; however, she
competing for Kikuyu votes. measures only pre-electoral violence.
402 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

The SCAD data measure a variety of types of violent, problem with this seemingly straightforward definition is
non-war related social conflict in Africa using LexisNexis that it can be difficult to know whether violence is directly
keyword searches of the Associated Press (AP) and the related to an election. While in most cases we were able to
Agence-France Presse (AFP) news wires. One dimension determine whether violence was directly related to an elec-
on which events are coded is whether elections are men- toral contest, for ambiguous cases, we consider any politi-
tioned as a source of the violence in the media descrip- cally related violence that occurred six months prior to an
tions. While the dataset is very valuable (and we make election or three months after an election to be electoral
use of it below in our own models), international news violence.9 We accept the possibility that this time frame
wire coverage of Africa and electoral violence in Africa is will exclude some violence that other studies consider to be
uneven, giving a potentially biased selection of recorded electoral violence. For example, Fjelde & Hoglund (2016)
events. The same is largely true for nongovernmental use the SCAD data to construct a dichotomous measure of
organization reporting and election observation reports. whether a particular month recorded violence, with elec-
In choosing a data source to code cases cross- tions mentioned as a potential source of the violence,
nationally, we sought a single source that is reliable and regardless of whether or not there was an impending or
that has comprehensive coverage across African states. recent election.10 We opt for a narrower time frame to
We wanted to avoid any systematic reporting bias by ensure that we are distinguishing between violence directly
selecting a single source that would report on as many due to electoral politics and broader political violence.
cases in the sample as possible. The main source on We further disaggregate violence along three dimen-
which we rely is therefore the US Department of State sions. First, we code who committed the violence
annual Human Rights reports (various years).6 The incumbents (referring to any state agent, militia, political
information in these reports is compiled from several party member, or hooligan who acts on behalf of the
sources, including media outlets, academic and congres- political party that controls the executive) or challengers
sional reports, nongovernmental organization reports, (which refers to any party member, militia, or hooligan
and observations from embassy staff. This use of several acting on behalf of the political party that does not control
sources gives the reports a reasonably accurate descrip- the executive). The categories are not mutually exclusive
tion of the conduct of elections held in a particular year, in some election cases, incumbents and challengers both
including details of election-related violence. In addition, commit violence in an election. Second, we code for
the US State Department reports on all countries in whether violence occurred before or after elections are held.
Africa, making the unevenness problem inherent in Third, we code for level of violence using four categories:
media accounts less of a problem. We consulted every 0 no reported violence; 1 violent harassment;11
report for a country with an election between 1990 and 2 violent repression;12 and 3 generalized violence.13
2008. For the years 199092, we found the reports to be
somewhat less detailed on election violence. We there-
fore further examined the Amnesty International (vari- also include the possibility that an election was annulled, leading in
ous years) and Human Rights Watch (various years) turn to violence.
annual human rights reports as well as journalism cov- We choose a longer time horizon prior to an election date to reflect
erage in Africa Report (199092) for those years.7 the fact that electoral campaigns usually take place for a substantial
period before an election. We choose a shorter period after an election
In identifying cases of electoral violence in the reports, to reflect that responses to an electoral result will usually occur within
the AEVD defines electoral violence as physical violence a few months of an announced result.
and coercive intimidation directly tied to an impending 10
The SCAD data code for first, second, and third sources of the
electoral contest or to an announced electoral result.8 One political violence it records. Fjelde & Hoglund (2016: 307) consider
violence to be electoral violence if elections are coded in any of these
positions as sources of the violence.
Indicated as police or security forces breaking up rallies, party
Available at supporters fighting, street brawls, opposition newspapers being
We considered using local news media sources from the countries confiscated with violence, candidate disqualifications, and limited
in the sample as an alternative source of data. However, newspapers in short-term arrests of political opponents.
much of Africa are either controlled by the state or highly partisan in Indicated by high-level assassinations and targeted murder,
their coverage. They are therefore unlikely to report electoral violence combined with long-term high-level arrests of party leaders, the
in an unbiased fashion. consistent use of violent harassment or torture.
8 13
By announced result, we refer mostly to the announcement of Indicated by repeated, widespread physical attacks leading to a
electoral returns, rigged or not, which in turn triggers a chain of substantial number of deaths over time, which we measure as 20 or
events that lead to violence. By announced result, however, we more deaths.
Taylor et al. 403

We believe that using an ordinal scale gives us some reports of systematic violence by state-related parties that
advantages over studies that rely on a dichotomous were misattributed. We are thus confident that our attri-
measure of electoral violence. For example, our mea- bution of violence is not systematically biased.
sure considers post-election violence resulting in 20
deaths to be much more severe than post-election vio-
lence resulting in one death. The NELDA dataset Patterns of electoral violence
codes such cases identically. Using this new dataset, we find that the most serious
The data are not flawless and, as with all data sources, incidents of widespread, generalized electoral violence
are subject to the inherent possibility of noise and bias. are about 10% (N 23) of all elections held in sub-
However, considering the problem of noise, the US State Saharan African between 1990 and 2008. We find nearly
Department reports provide a level of detail sufficient to the same proportion of elections that involved repressive
code elections into the variables outlined above.14 An violence that entailed targeted assassinations and long-
Online appendix has several examples of how the AEVD term high-level detentions combined with occasional
was coded from the State Department reports. For cases cases of torture: also 10% (N 22) of elections. By
where the State Department reports are ambiguous, we contrast, violent harassment occurred in about 38%
consulted election observer reports and those by Human (N 84) of cases. There is no reported electoral violence
Rights Watch, where available. In addition, we also con- in 42% (N 92) of cases. These descriptive results stand
tacted country experts for clarification on any lingering in contrast to claims that democratization routinely insti-
coding issues. gates major violence in poorer, weakly institutionalized
In addition, while many countries hold parliamentary countries (Collier, 2009; Snyder, 2000). Rather, the
and presidential elections at different points in time, in findings suggest there is considerable variation among
practice, many elections are held in close temporal prox- African electoral campaigns.
imity and distinguishing whether any violence relates to The dataset indicates longitudinal consistency. The
the presidential and parliamentary elections can be dif- mean level of violence in the dataset is around .89 (on
ficult. Thus, if parliamentary and presidential elections a 03 scale), and 12 of the 18 years in the dataset show
are held within three months of each other, even if in an average violence level between .5 and 1. There are two
different years, we code the case as a single electoral case. years in the early 1990s (1992 and 1993) when African
This leaves us with 221 election cases in the dataset states were holding first elections after transitioning from
between the years 1990 and 2008. one-party regimes and when there was a concentration of
In terms of bias, one could be concerned that because highly violent electoral periods. But, the years 2000 and
of the reliance on the State Department reports, we 2005 were as or more violent, on average, as 1992 and
might overestimate the level of violence committed by 1993 were. The result runs contrary to Lindberg (2006),
the opposition. Given US diplomatic ties with incum- who finds that multiparty elections improve over time,
bent governments, there could be incentives for the State which would imply decreasing levels of violence.
Department to downplay violence perpetrated by gov- In terms of timing, violence primarily occurs before
ernments that support US interests. However, as dis- election day. Of the 129 cases with some electoral vio-
cussed below, our findings show that incumbent lence, 122 cases (94.6%) took place during the electoral
parties are the main perpetrators of electoral violence, campaign before the polling date while 38 cases (29.5%)
including countries that are considered allies of the had violence after the voting. Only seven cases had any
United States. We also were careful to cross-check the form of post-vote electoral violence and no pre-vote elec-
data against other sources and country experts this toral violence. In terms of the authors of the violence,
check revealed no cases in our data where we found our data show that incumbent actors are the dominant
perpetrators of electoral violence before and after the
election. If challengers are involved in violence, it is
We note too that the data source is also used in other prominent marginally more likely to be after the election. In pre-
datasets on violence, notably the Political Terror Scale and the vote violence, incumbents were involved 98% of the
Cingranelli and Richards Human Rights Data Project (see time, and they were the unique perpetrators nearly
Cingranelli & Richards, 2010; Wood & Gibney, 2010). Both of
80% of the time. In post-vote violence, incumbents were
these data collection projects also consult Amnesty International
annual reports. In some ambiguous cases, we also consulted involved 92% of the time, and they were the unique
Amnesty reports; however, we generally found the State perpetrators 74% of the time. By contrast, challengers
Department and Amnesty reports to be highly correlated. were involved in 20% of the pre-vote cases and 32% of
404 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

the post-vote cases. The percentages are similar if only To control for the possible confounding effect of
high violence cases are examined.15 regime type on electoral violence, we specify an indi-
cator variable for whether the regime is democratic or
not. We use Cheibub, Gandhi & Vreelands (2010)
Cross-national model data on regime type to define an indicator variable,
Democracy, measured at t1. These variables should
We now investigate our hypothesis concerning incum-
control for any tendency for less democratic countries
bency using multivariate analysis. In these models, we
to be more prone to violence during elections (Saleh-
use the four-category AEVD coding of pre- and post-
yan & Linebarger, 2015).
election violence as the dependent variable. Because the
As additional controls for the effects of regime type,
values of violence are ordered from less to more severe,
we include an indicator variable measuring whether a
we use ordered logit estimation. As a robustness check,
regime transition took place prior to an election. This
given possible measurement error, we also collapse the
should allow us to determine if the institutional uncer-
violent elections into one category. The result is a binary
tainty in recently transitioned states increases the like-
variable of no violence and any violence.
lihood of violence. We rely on Cheibub, Gandhi &
We evaluate our theory of incumbency by coding
Vreelands (2010) coding of democratic and autocratic
whether or not an incumbent executive is running in
transitions. Our variables, Democratization and Autocra-
each election. The variable (Incumbent running) takes
tization, measure changes in regime type over a five-year
on a value of 1 if an incumbent leader is standing in the
period. If Cheibub and colleagues code as experiencing a
election and 0 otherwise. The sample in these models
democratic or autocratic transition over a five-year
includes all presidential elections as well as parliamentary
period preceding the election (that is, changes in regime
elections in parliamentary electoral systems. In both of
type from t6 to t1 before the election), the respective
these types of elections the office of the executive is at
variable is coded as a 1.
stake and the proposed mechanism should apply in both
Next, we introduce Path to power, which is coded 1 if
situations. This excludes parliamentary elections held in
the incumbent running in the election came to power
presidential systems from the sample. As a robustness
through violent means, such as a coup or civil war (Goe-
check, we also re-estimate our baseline model excluding
mans, Gleditsch & Chiozza, 2009). If the incumbent
parliamentary systems from our measure of incumbency.
took a peaceful pathway to power (or there is no incum-
bent running), the variable is coded as 0. We also include
Control variables a variable (Previous election violence) that counts the
To control for potential threats to inference, we include number of years since previous electoral violence to con-
per-capita gross domestic product as a control variable. A trol for any temporal dependence in the model.16
large literature on the causes of civil war links the onset of Large-scale violence in the form of a civil war could
civil war to low levels of per capita income (Fearon & influence the prospects for peaceful elections. At the
Laitin, 2003; Blattman & Miguel, 2010). The hypothe- same time, it is not clear in which direction civil war
sized mechanisms vary from low state capacity to repress might influence electoral violence. As Dunning (2011)
rebellion, to lower opportunity costs for would-be rebels, argues, civil war fighting and electoral violence could be
to increased frustration due to poor living conditions. strategic substitutes or strategic complements. To this
We are particularly concerned with the third mechan- end, we rely on UCDP-PRIO data (Pettersson & Wal-
ism, absolute poverty or declining economic conditions, lensteen, 2015) to code an indicator variable, Civil war,
which could yield greater frustration and a greater will- if the state under observation is experiencing a civil war
ingness to engage in violence in order to contest elections in year t. In the same vein, we include an indicator
or announced results. Higher levels of income should variable (Post war) for whether the election being held
decrease the chances of a slide from democracy back to is the first after a civil war termination. Again, the direc-
authoritarianism (Przeworski et al., 2000), influencing tion of how a recently ended civil war shapes electoral
other independent variables such as durability and violence is unclear. It might be that after wars end there
democraticness. For these reasons, we include Per capita
GDP measured in year t1.
This would be the equivalent of the base of a natural cubic spline
High violence refers to categories 2 and 3 of the ordered violence function as suggested by Beck, Katz & Tucker (1998). If the
measure. observation is the first election, this variable is coded as 0.
Taylor et al. 405

Preelection violence a case where an incumbent is running. The final plot in

Incumbent each graph shows the change in probability when using
Incumbent (alt) the (logit) estimation from our binary outcome variable.
Per capita gdp Turning to the third set of coefficient plots (the small
Path to power
squares), we add an additional control for pre-existing
Post war
social conflict. We use the Social Conflict in Africa Data-
Civil war
Previous violence
base (SCAD) to measure this conflict. We create a vari-
able of the log of the average duration of social conflict
Autocratization events in countries in previous non-election years, mea-
Democratization sured in days (Salehyan et al., 2012).19 This should allow
Social conflict us to control for any effects of ongoing social violence
5 0 5 10 that is not measured by the Civil war variable. We note
Ord. logit Ord. logit Ord. logit (SCAD) Logit Cond. logit that this new variable achieves statistical significance and
takes on the expected sign more social conflict increases
the propensity for pre-election violence. The variable
Figure 1. Plots of coefficient estimates of determinants of pre-
election violence captures the presence of significant social conflicts that
are not directly related to elections. This covers a variety
are weapons in circulation and tensions between previ- of conflicts, including conflicts over natural resources,
ously fighting factions remain high, thereby increasing protests against authoritarian regimes, and ongoing eth-
the prospects of electoral violence. Alternatively, it could nic and religious conflicts. In many cases, politicians use
also be that political elites and citizens are exhausted these grievances during campaigns to promote their own
from wars and want to avoid violence.17 candidacies. When these conflicts become instrumenta-
lized during elections, or when politicians recruit com-
batants for their own purposes, the risk of electoral
Results and discussion violence may increase.
The next set of estimates (represented by crosses in
Figure 1 graphically presents the coefficient estimates of
Figure 1) collapses our dependent variable into two cate-
our statistical models for the pre-election period. The
gories and thus uses logistic regression to estimate our
figure presents five sets of estimates: three using ordered
model. As seen in the figure, these results are highly
logit, one using logit, and one using conditional logit.
consistent with our previous estimates. Finally, in our
Each set of estimates strongly supports our proposed
most conservative test, the final set of estimates uses
theory on the importance of incumbency. Table I con-
country fixed-effects, which allows us to model within-
tains regression results for our main models.18 The vari-
country variation. This model (dark circles in Figure 1)
able is consistently statistically significant regardless of
yields the strongest evidence to date that incumbency
whether we adopt a more restrictive definition of incum-
leads to the increased risk of pre-election violence, even
bency or not (the latter estimates represented by the
when excluding those states that experience no variation
larger, gray circles in Figure 1).
in violence. In sum, there is strong and robust evidence
This finding is not only statistically significant but
that the presence of an incumbent is correlated with pre-
also, as shown in Figure 2, substantively important. The
election violence.
increase in the predicted probability of pre-electoral vio-
A number of variables that plausibly could affect the
lence (based on the logit estimates) is over 20% when an
chances of pre-electoral violence generally do not achieve
incumbent is running for office. Figure 2 shows the
statistical significance. These include regime type, the
changes in probability of pre-election violence when
pathway to power of the incumbent, whether a civil war
moving from a case where no incumbent is running to
is ongoing, and whether the elections were the first held
after a civil war. Our findings on the lack of a relation-
Salehyan & Linebarger (2015) do not find any consistent ship between civil war and electoral violence match those
relationship between ongoing or recently concluded civil wars and
electoral violence, but we include both as control variables given the
arguments by Dunning (2011) and the use of civil war control
variables by Hafner-Burton, Hyde & Jablonski (2014) and Fjelde We exclude conflicts related to elections, meaning those conflicts
& Hoglund (2016). that were coded in the SCAD as caused by either elections or
The Online appendix contains all full regression tables. democracy/human rights.
406 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

Table I. Estimates of correlates of pre- and post-electoral violence

(Ordered logit) (Logit) (Ordered logit) (Logit)

Pre-election Pre-election Post-election Post-election

violence violence violence violence

Incumbent running 0.612* 0.876* 1.207** 1.269**

(0.261) (0.384) (0.412) (0.491)
Per capita GDP 0.315 0.388 0.367 0.248
(0.223) (0.296) (0.212) (0.243)
Path to power 0.069 0.280 0.503 0.696
(0.405) (0.536) (0.316) (0.370)
Post war 0.312 0.497 0.766 1.162
(0.411) (0.615) (0.697) (0.774)
Civil war 0.232 0.365 0.509 0.885
(0.362) (0.560) (0.665) (0.670)
Previous violence 0.235** 0.157** 0.106* 0.088
(0.052) (0.057) (0.053) (0.058)
Democracy 0.624 0.649 0.231 0.073
(0.519) (0.656) (0.620) (0.639)
Autocratization 0.152 0.232 0.250 0.323*
(0.175) (0.172) (0.190) (0.140)
Democratization 0.022 0.028 0.151 0.221
(0.197) (0.176) (0.182) (0.118)
Social conflict 0.258* 0.167
(0.107) (0.094)
Pre-election violence 1.226* 0.913
(0.614) (0.599)
Constant cut1 3.111 0.414
(1.759) (1.822)
Constant cut2 0.842 0.690
(1.680) (1.896)
Constant cut3 0.209 1.113
(1.739) (1.906)
Constant 3.011 0.552
(2.394) (2.109)

Observations 220 179 220 179

Robust standard errors, clustered on country, in parentheses. **p < 0.01, *p < 0.05.

of Salehyan & Linebarger (2015) who also find that correlated with pre-election violence when comparing
elections held during or immediately after civil wars are countries to one another, variation in social conflict over
not more prone to violence. Interestingly, in the fixed- time, within the same country, has little bearing on the
effects model, Civil war is negatively correlated with prospects for violence.
electoral violence and achieves statistical significance. Turning to other control variables, poorer (or richer)
The same is true of Post war. These two findings suggest countries do not have more electoral violence, whether
that, when examining only within-country variation over before or after a vote. That result is surprising. Given the
time, the prior presence of large-scale violence reduces literature on the onset of civil war, the expectation would
the propensity of electoral violence. One factor previ- be that it would be easier to recruit thugs in poorer
ously associated with violence that drops out of the countries or that institutions would be weaker, leading
fixed-effects specification is Social conflict, which now to less confidence in them. But neither is the case, and
fails to achieve statistical significance. This indicates that indeed the most recent worst bouts of electoral violence
while higher levels of pre-existing conflicts may be in sub-Saharan Africa took place in the comparatively
Taylor et al. 407

Conditional marginal effects of incumbent running with 95% CIs

.4 Conditional marginal effects of incumbent running with 95% CIs

Effects on postelection violence
Effects on preelection violence


.1 0


No violence Low violence Moderate violence High violence Logit No violence Low violence Moderate violence High violence Logit

Figure 2. Marginal effect plots of incumbency on pre-election Figure 4. Marginal effect plots of incumbency on post-election
violence violence

Like the pre-election violence results, the effects of

Postelection violence incumbency are substantively important, with the pres-
Incumbent (alt)
ence of an incumbent increasing the probability of post-
Per capita gdp electoral violence by nearly 15%. We also note that the
Path to power incumbency effect is strong when moving to a fixed-
Post war
effects specification. Isolating within-country changes
Civil war
Previous violence
over time yields similar findings, that incumbency is
Preelection violence related to post-election violence.
Democracy Also like the pre-election results, few other covariates
are consistently statistically significant across all specifi-
Social conflict
cations. The measure of the length of time since the
10 5 0 5 previous post-election violence appears to be negatively
Ord. logit Ord. logit Ord. logit (SCAD) Logit Cond. logit correlated with current post-election violence, but this
estimate is only statistically significant when not control-
ling for previous social conflict using the SCAD data.
Figure 3. Plots of coefficient estimates of determinants of post- The variable Social conflict is initially not related to
election violence post-election violence until we move to the fixed-effects
specification. Ironically, this is the reversed pattern from
wealthy countries of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Cote the pre-election violence results. The remaining covariate
dIvoire. This finding, as well as the findings on first which appears to be moderately correlated with post-
elections after civil wars and ongoing civil wars, strongly election violence is our measure of Autocratization. This
suggests that the causal dynamics of civil war are different finding emerges after adding our Social conflict measure
from the causal dynamics of electoral violence. and holds up in the more conservative fixed-effects spe-
Turning to the estimates for post-election violence, cification. Thus, recent moves away from more demo-
we again find significant evidence that incumbency cratic rule appear to have an attenuating effect on the
increases the propensity for this type of violence. As propensity for post-electoral violence.
shown in the coefficient plot in Figure 3, our measure Although our models do not reveal any consistently
of incumbency is positively related to the presence of strong predictors of post-election violence other than
post-election violence. The one case where incumbencys incumbency, cases in the dataset suggest that violence
effect is attenuated is in the estimates using the alterna- becomes more likely when well-organized opposition
tive measure of incumbency. While the variable is still parties have reason to believe that they are victims of
positively related to electoral violence, the estimate electoral fraud. We suspect this will be the case when
misses statistical significance at the p < .05 level, but still confidence in electoral management bodies is low. An
maintains significance at the p < .10 level (see Figure 4). illustrative example of this dynamic is the 1992
408 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(3)

presidential elections in Mauritania. After introducing serving as the reference category. The variables are not
democratic reforms in 1991 with a new constitution, the significant and do not change the statistical significance
country held presidential elections in 1992. While the of our own key variables.
voting proceeded relatively peacefully, state officials in Finally, we address the potential issue of endogeneity.
charge of overseeing the election ensured a victory for If violence is used to help incumbents retain office, then
incumbent candidate Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya violence in the current election could lead to an incum-
by prohibiting opposition supporters from registering to bent retaining power, making it more likely that an
vote, refusing to recognize ID cards from opposition incumbent will run in the future. Interestingly, from a
supporters, and using fraudulent voter rolls (HRW/A, statistical standpoint, we do not find this to be a prob-
1994). After Ould Taya was declared the winner, oppo- lem. As shown in our Online appendix, we regress our
sition parties protested the result as fraudulent and wide- measure of whether an incumbent is standing for
spread riots ensued. Government security forces then re-election on a variable measuring whether there was
initiated a violent crackdown (Wiseman, 1992). While pre-election violence in the previous election. We then
our statistical models do not capture this dynamic, sev- repeat this model with a measure for post-election vio-
eral cases of post-election violence have a similar pattern. lence in the previous election, and a third time including
both measures of previous electoral violence. In no case
does the measure of electoral violence help us predict
Alternative explanations whether an incumbent is running.20 Thus, while incum-
Recent studies on electoral violence have highlighted bents do appear to resort to violence in an attempt to
other explanations that could compete with our own maintain office, these auxiliary regressions suggest they
findings on the importance of incumbency and fragile are not always successful in doing so. And while it is
political institutions. For example, Daxecker (2012) sug- difficult to completely rule out endogeneity in any obser-
gests that the presence of international election observers vational study, these findings suggest it is not a signifi-
may make electoral violence more likely by providing cant contributor to our previous findings.
credibility to opposition claims that an election result
may be fraudulent. To control for the possibility that Conclusion
election observation missions may explain some of our
findings, we code an indicator variable indicating the Understanding the sources of electoral violence is cen-
presence of electoral observers from the NELDA dataset trally important for policymakers who often invest
and add it to our original models (estimates can be found heavily in democratic processes in developing coun-
in our Online appendix). The variable does not achieve tries. Given the scholarly attention to democratization
statistical significance, nor does it substantially alter the and political violence, the topic of electoral violence
previous estimates. also has significant theoretical stakes. In this article,
We also introduce two variables from the NELDA we take a step toward generating insights about the
data to control for the competitiveness of the election patterns and dynamics of electoral violence. The analysis
based on the findings of Hafner-Burton, Hyde & is based on a region-specific sample, but there are more
Jablonski (2014). In no cases are these new variables global implications.
statistically significant predictors of pre-election or First, our results show that the presence of an incum-
post-election violence in our model, yet our key variables bent executive candidate significantly increases the like-
remain statistically significant. We suspect that electoral lihood of electoral violence. We argue that in the context
competitiveness is key to triggering the dynamics of vio- of neo-patrimonial systems, political elites access to
lence; actors are likely to incur the risks and costs asso- patronage goods is threatened with a potential victory
ciated with violence only if the electoral outcome is for an opposition candidate. They are therefore willing
uncertain. But in our sample, competitiveness does not to mobilize supporters to participate in violence to pro-
drive violence. tect an incumbent patron.
Next, we control for the potential effects of different Second, our study suggests that pre-vote and post-
electoral laws, given that Fjelde & Hoglund (2016) argue vote electoral violence have somewhat distinct dynamics.
that majoritarian and plurality systems are more prone to
electoral violence. Following the authors, we include indi- 20
The same results hold adding the controls from our previous
cator variables for majoritarian/plurality systems and models in as covariates as well as substituting our more restrictive
mixed-member systems, with proportional representation definition of incumbency.
Taylor et al. 409

In pre-vote contexts, politicians instrumentalize salient Acknowledgements

electorate concerns. Where there is pre-existing social The authors thank Dorina Bekoe, Jeff Checkel, John Clark,
conflict, candidates may face strong incentives to cham- Brett Lacy, Jacqueline Klopp, Melanie Manion, Susanne
pion the causes of particular factions, thus increasing the Mueller, Matt Scharf, Michael Schatzberg, Aili Tripp, Craw-
likelihood of electoral violence. By contrast, in post-vote ford Young, the editors at Journal of Peace Research, and three
environments, the issue at stake is often the legitimacy of anonymous reviewers for comments on drafts.
the election itself. A common post-vote scenario is that
incumbents rig, or are perceived to have rigged, results,
followed by protests and violence. Funding
These findings may or may not travel to other regions. The initial research for the project was supported with
We argue that incumbency matters in particular in per- grants to Scott Straus from the Harry Frank Guggen-
sonalized, clientelistic, presidential systems, but in other heim Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-
systems where different informal rules dominate, Madison Graduate School.
whether the incumbent runs for re-election may not
matter. We also find that where pre-existing social con-
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