Elections and Political Instability: Ballots to Bullets, Voting to Violence?
36 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2012 Last revised: 4 Jul 2012
Date Written: June 3, 2012
Serious instability and deadly political violence have surrounded several recent elections and gained global media coverage. Do elections in general make such incidents more likely? Are elections especially dangerous in partially democratic or ethnically divided states? Elections are among the most common and well-studied of political events. Nevertheless the academic literature is divided on this topic. Our quantitative analysis suggests that elections are rarely dangerous, even when they occur in difficult political or ethnic contexts. On the contrary, we find that elections tend to decrease the chance of instability in states with high ethnic fractionalization. We argue that during election periods, high levels of ethnic fractionalization lower the expected payoffs for violent methods of political gain relative to the expected value of minority, opposition or coalition status. Elections, we posit, provide inducements that are particularly appealing to ethnic groups seeking limited power or autonomy within a state, while such limited gains through institutionalized mechanisms controlled by the state are also less threatening to incumbent governments or other ethnic groups in the society. We point to the importance of both our statistically significant and insignificant findings. We conclude by drawing out some theoretical and policy implications of the lack of evidence for a general effect for elections, and the apparently robust evidence for a pacifying effect in ethnically divided states.
Keywords: elections, political instability, ethnic fractionalization
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation