The Elusive Sources of Legitimacy Beliefs: Civil Society Views of International Election Observers
51 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018
Date Written: May 17, 2018
When are international election observers viewed as legitimate players by other members of civil society? Motivated by recent work on the legitimacy of international organizations, we evaluate beliefs about international election observer groups, in which both intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) seek to exercise authority, often regarding the same elections. To examine two different perspectives, we compare other non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) responses to information about objective substantive features of organizations to their responses to heuristic shortcuts including isomorphism and prominence. Three survey-based experiments – one in Kenya and the others global – prime NGO respondents with information about both real and hypothetical election observer groups in ways intended to affect their votes for which organizations should be invited to observe the next election in their countries. In general, the primes about the objective substantive sources of legitimacy beliefs failed to produce consistent, measurable changes in responses among NGOs across both the hypothetical and real-world observer groups. However, with hypothetical organizations respondents’ identification mattered: rather than IGOs, NGO respondents preferred other NGOs, suggesting an isomorphism heuristic. Conversely, with real organizations their priors revealed a significant preference for more prominent and well-known intergovernmental organizations. This suggests that the isomorphism and prominence of observer organizations can drive legitimacy beliefs, but it also cautions against using hypothetical actors in survey experiments.
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