Why Elections Fail: International forces

Pippa Norris. 2015. Why Elections Fail. NY: Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming

Posted: 27 May 2014 Last revised: 29 Jul 2015

See all articles by Pippa Norris

Pippa Norris

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Sydney

Date Written: September 27, 2014


The ‘electoral revolution’ is one of the most dramatic developments during the twentieth century. At the end of World War II, only around fifty independent nation-states had a popularly-elected legislature. Today, by contrast, direct elections have been almost universally adopted worldwide as the main mechanism for the legitimate allocation of legislative offices. Nevertheless, as numerous scholars have highlight, the quality of contemporary elections commonly fails to meet international standards. The gravest violations are observed in electoral autocracies, but flaws can also be found in mature democracies. Malpractices may arise at every stage of the electoral cycle, including the pre-election period, the campaign, polling day and its aftermath. This matters for human rights, for the legitimacy of elected authorities, for political participation, and for regime stability. Why do elections fail or succeed?

Building upon accounts seeking to explain broader processes of democratization more generally, the key factors can be divided into three categories emphasizing, respectively, the roles of fixed structural conditions, domestic institutions, and international determinants. The latter has been the focus of the most scholarly research, notable the role of international monitors and external pressures upon recalcitrant autocrats. Yet most work has focused upon the role of electoral observer missions rather than other types of international forces.

This study theorizes that three international factors may shape electoral integrity: cosmopolitan communications at diffuse level, technical aid and assistance, and international monitoring,

Although plausible, these propositions have not been clearly explored, still less established. Nor is it clear which of these institutional mechanisms has the strongest impact on integrity. The study starts to unpack these issues through two methods. Large-N cross-national analysis draws upon a new source of evidence, the expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, assessing the quality of contemporary parliamentary and presidential elections (in 2012 and 2013) in more than sixty independent nation-states worldwide.

The conclusions considers the lessons for theories explaining electoral integrity as well as for stakeholders and practitioners seeking to strengthen the quality of elections.

Suggested Citation

Norris, Pippa, Why Elections Fail: International forces (September 27, 2014). Pippa Norris. 2015. Why Elections Fail. NY: Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2442338

Pippa Norris (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1475 (Phone)
617-496-2850 (Fax)

University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NC NSW 2006

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