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Shaping Democratic Practice and the Causes of Electoral Fraud: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Germany


Why is there so much alleged electoral fraud in new democracies? Most scholarship focuses on the proximate cause of electoral competition. This article proposes a different answer by constructing and analyzing an original data set drawn from the German parliament's own voluminous record of election disputes for every parliamentary election in the life of Imperial Germany (1871–1912) after its adoption of universal male suffrage in 1871. The article analyzes the election of over 5,000 parliamentary seats to identify where and why elections were disputed as a result of “election misconduct.” The empirical analysis demonstrates that electoral fraud's incidence is significantly related to a society's level of inequality in landholding, a major source of wealth, power, and prestige in this period. After weighing the importance of two different causal mechanisms, the article concludes that socioeconomic inequality, by making elections endogenous to preexisting social power, can be a major and underappreciated barrier to the long-term process of democratization even after the “choice” of formally democratic rules.

Corresponding author
Daniel Ziblatt is Associate Professor of Government and Social Studies, Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 27 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (
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