Do Dictators Signal Strength with Elections?
58 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2016 Last revised: 9 Aug 2019
Date Written: May 14, 2018
What role do elections play in nondemocracies? In this paper, we offer an empirical test of a popular idea that authoritarian governments use elections to engineer overwhelming victories thus deterring potential opposition from challenging the regime. Using the data from the Russian Parliamentary elections in 2011 and a regionally representative public opinion survey, we find that the geographical allocation of electoral manipulation was the opposite of what the theory would imply: more manipulation happened in the areas where the regime was more popular. We also find that higher margins of victory for a pro-regime party failed to deter subsequent mass protests. We argue that these empirical patterns could be better explained not by the efforts of the regime to signal invincibility, but to gather information about public preferences on the support for the regime in the most ex-ante contested areas.
Keywords: Autocracy, Elections, Electoral Fraud
JEL Classification: D72, D78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation