Proponents of democratization often claim that liberal institutions have a palliative effect on the level of conflict within societies. Critics, however, suggest that the instruments of democracy, especially elections, can spark political violence, particularly in weakly institutionalized settings. Using the newly available Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD), we examine the relationship between executive elections and social conflict in Africa for the period 1990–2009. We also assess the conditions which make elections more or less violent. We examine elections in (1) countries faced with armed conflict, (2) post-conflict settings, (3) elections in autocracies, and (4) in relatively poor countries. We also look at characteristics of elections themselves, including the margin of victory, the presence of observers, and allegations of vote fraud. Results show that while elections can sometimes spark violence, free and fair elections in genuinely democratic contexts are much less conflict prone, while illiberal elections are especially problematic. We do not find that current or recent armed conflict on a country’s territory makes elections more violent.
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But, they are not uniquely so. Wilkinson (2004) argues that with respect to India, ethnic riots allow politicians to play on the fears of voters and thus mobilize support for candidates and parties.
See, http://projectvote.org/voter-intimidation.html, for examples. Access date, March 9, 2012.
Although SCAD data exist for more recent years, our other independent variables limit our analysis to 2009.
In all, only 182/7,321 (or 2.5 %) of the events were so imputed.
Given the nature of media coverage, this becomes particularly important. Legislative elections in remote, rural districts may find less reporting than those in urban centers. Therefore, high-profile, nationwide, executive elections ensure comparability across cases.
We note that 92 of 144 elections in our sample are in non-democracies.
Multiple-round elections make the computation of margin of victory more difficult as the margin of victory is given for both rounds of the election in the data. To do so, we include the victory margin for the first election for the months up to and including the first round; the margin of victory for the second round is used for the second election month and subsequent months. When dropping cases with multi-round elections, our results do not change significantly.
SCAD searches are based on five keywords, “protest,” “riot,” “strike,” “violence,” and “attack”. In order to create the media coverage variable, we use Boolean operators to search for articles that do NOT contain these words.
In additional models, reported in the Appendix, we follow Cederman et al. (2012) and include measures for the first and second competitive elections following a civil war. A competitive election is defined as one in which the opposition is allowed, more than one party is legal, and there was a choice of candidates after the ballot. This variable is never significant and does not change our main results. However, as our period of observation begins in the 1990s, our results are not directly comparable, as most countries had prior experience with elections.
AIC and BIC tests indicate that additional lags are unnecessary.
In alternative models, not shown, we include an indicator for 3 and 7-month election periods. This is simply a dummy variable which includes the 1 and 3 months before, during, and after the election, respectively. Doing so does not alter the statistical significance of our results, although the magnitude of the coefficients decreases with longer periods, as less violent pre and post periods dilute the main effect of the election month.
However, in models reported in the Appendix, we change the democracy threshold to polity >0. We find significant interactive effects between this measure and elections for all of our dependent variables, providing strong evidence that even minimally democratic institutions reduce social conflict.
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Salehyan, I., Linebarger, C. Elections and Social Conflict in Africa, 1990–2009. St Comp Int Dev 50, 23–49 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-014-9163-1