Skip to main content

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 (
Hide All
Acemoglu, Daron, and Robinson, James A.. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Acemoglu, Daron, and Robinson, James A.. 2008. “Persistence of Power, Elites, and Institutions.American Economic Review 98: 267293.
Adcock, Robert, and Collier, David. 2001. “Measurement Validity: A Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research.American Political Science Review 95 (3): 529–46.
Alexander, Gerard. 2002. Institutionalized Uncertainty, the Rule of Law, and the Sources of Democratic Consolidation.Comparative Political Studies 35 (10): 1145–70.
Anderson, Margaret L. 2000. Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Argersinger, Peter. 1992. Structure, Process, and Party: Essays in American Political History. New York: M.E Sharpe.
Arsenschek, Robert. 2003. Der Kampf um die Wahlfreiheit im Kaiserreich: zur parlamentarischen Wahlprüfung und politischen Realität der Reichstagswahlen 1871–1914. [The Fight for Free Elections in Imperial Germany] Düsseldorf: Droste.
ArsenschekRobert, and Daniel Ziblatt Robert, and Daniel Ziblatt. 2008. “Complete Reichstag Election Disputes Dataset, 1871–1914.” Online Dataset, Harvard University, available at:
Baland, Jean-Marie, and Robinson, James. 2006. “Land and Power: Theory and Evidence from Chile.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12517.
Beitz, Charles. 1989. Political Equality: An Essay in Democratic Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bensel, Richard. 2004. The American Ballot Box. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Berman, Sheri. 2001. “Modernization in Historical Perspective: The Case of Imperial Germany.World Politics 53 (3): 431–62.
Bernstein, Marver. 1995. Regulating Business by Independent Commission. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Birch, Sarah. 2007. “Electoral Systems and Election Misconduct.Comparative Political Studies 40 (12): 1533–56.
Blackbourn, David. 1980. Class, Religion, and Local Politics in Wilhelmian Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Blackbourn, David, and Eley, Geoff. 1984. The Peculiarities of German History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boix, Carles. 2003. Democracy and Redistribution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bunce, Valerie. 2008. “Reflecting on ElectionsAPSA-CP Newsletter 19 (2): 12.
Carpenter, Daniel. 2004. “Protection without Capture: Product Approval by a Politically Responsive, Learning Regulator.” American Political Science Review 98 (4): 613–31.
Chang, Eric, and Golden, Miriam. 2007. “Electoral Systems, District Magnitude and Corruption.” British Journal of Political Science 37 (1): 115–37.
Clark, Christopher. 2007. The Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
Cox, Gary, and Kousser, J. Morgan. 1981. “Turnout and Rural Corruption: New York as a Test Case.” American Journal of Political Science 25: 646–63.
Cusack, Thomas, and Iversen, Torben. 2000. “The Causes of Welfare State Expansion: Deindustrialization or Globalization?World Politics 52 (3): 313–49.
Dahl, Robert. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1967. Society and Democracy in Germany. Garden City, NJ: Anchor Books.
della Porta, Donatella, and Mario, Diani. 1999. Social Movements: An Introduction. London: Blackwell.
Diamond, Larry. 1999. Developing Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).
Eifert, Christiane. 2003. Paternalismus und Politik: Preussische Landräte im 19. Jahrhundert [Paternalism and Politics]. Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot.
Eisenstadt, Shmuel, and Roniger, Luis. 1984. Patrons, Clients and Friends: Interpersonal Relations and the Structure of Trust in Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Eley, Geoff. 1980. Reshaping the German Right: Radical Nationalism and Political Change after Bismarck. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Evans, Richard. 1987. Rethinking German History: Nineteenth Century Germany and the Origins of the Third Reich. London: Allen and Unwin.
Fairbairn, Brett. 1997. Democracy in the Undemocratic State: The German Reichstag Elections of 1898 and 1903. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fenske, Hans. 2002. “Der Landrat als Wahlmacher.” In Fenske, Hans, Preussentum und Liberalismus: Aufsätze zur Preussischen und deutschen Geschichte des 19. Und 20. Jahrhunderts, [Landrat as Election Maker]. (Dettelbach: J.H. Röll): 562–79.
Feuchtwanger, Edgar. 2001. Imperial Germany, 1850–1918. London: Routledge.
Gandhi, Jennifer, and Przeworski, Adam. 2007. “Dictatorial Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats.” Comparative Political Studies 40: 12792301.
Gash, Norman. 1977. Politics in the Age of Peel. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Harvester Press.
Gerschenkron, Alexander. 1948. Bread and Democracy in Germany. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Grant, Oliver. 2005. Migration and Inequality in Germany, 1870–1913. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gwyn, William. 1962. Democracy and the Cost of Politics in Britain. London: Athlone Press.
Hadenius, Axel, and Teorell, Jan. 2007. “Elections as Levers of Democracy: A Global Inquiry.” Presented at American Political Sciesnce Association Annual Meeting, Chicago.
Hagen, William. 2002. Ordinary Prussians: Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500–1840. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hatschek, Julius. 1915. Das Parlamentsrecht des Deutschen Reichs [Parliamentary Authority in the German Empire]. Berlin: G.J. Goeschen.
Hicken, Allen. 2007. “How Do Rules and Institutions Encourage Vote-Buying?” In Elections for Sale, ed. Schaffer, Fred. Boulder, CO: Lynn Rienner, 4760.
Hoppen, K. Theodore. 1994. “Grammars of Electoral Violence in Nineteenth Century England and Ireland.” English Historical Review 109 (432): 597620.
Huber, Ernst Rudolf. 1988. Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte seit 1789, [German Constitutional History Since 1789], Vol. III. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research). 1984. “German Reichstag Election Data, 1871–1912.” [Online:]
Jacob, Herbert. 1963. German Administration since Bismarck: Central Authority versus Local Autonomy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Kaiserliches Statistisches Amt. 1885. Landwirtschaftliche Betriebsstatistik nach der allgemeinen Berufszählung vom 5 Juni 1882 [Agricultural Statistics Based on General Census of June 5, 1882]. Bd. 5. Berlin: Verlag des Königlich Preussichen Statistischen Bureaus.
Kaiserliches Statistisches Amt. 1895. Statistik des Deutschen Reichs Bd. 112. Berlin: Verlag des Königlich Preussichen Statistischen Bureaus.
Kaiserliches Statistisches Amt. 1898. Statistik des Deutschen Reichs. Bd. 112. Berlin: Verlag des Königlich Preussichen Statistischen Bureaus, pp. 351413 [Table 9].
Kitschelt, Herbert, and Wilkinson, Steven, ed. 2007. Patrons, Clients, and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kousser, J Morgan. 1974. The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restrictions and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880–1910. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Kühne, Thomas. 1994. Dreiklassenwahlrecht und Wahlkultur in Preussen, 1867–1914 [Three-Class Voting System and Electoral Culture in Prussia, 1867–1914] Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag.
Kunicová, J., and Rose-Ackerman, Susan. 2005. “Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption.British Journal of Political Science 33 (10): 1567–85.
Lässig, Simone. 1998. “Wahlrechtsreformen in den deutschen Einzelstaaten.” In Modernisierung und Region im wilhelmischen Deutschland, [Suffrage Reform in Germany's States] ed. Lässig, Simone, Pohl, Karl Heinrich, and Retallack, James. Bielefeld: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte.
Lehoucq, Fabrice Edouard, and Jiménez, Iván Molina. 1999. “Political Competition and Electoral Fraud: A Latin American Case Study.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 30 (2): 199234.
Lehoucq, Fabrice Edouard, and Jiménez, Iván Molina. 2002. Stuffing the Ballot Box: Fraud, Electoral Reform, and Democratization in Costa Rica. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lehoucq, Fabrice Edouard. 2003. “Electoral Fraud: Causes, Types, and Consequences.” Annual Review of Political Science. 6: 233–56.
Levitsky, Steven, and Way, Lucan. 2002. “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism.” Journal of Democracy 13 (2): 5165.
Lindberg, Steffan. 2006. Democracy and Elections in Africa. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53 (1): 69105.
Luebbert, Gregory. 1991. Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. “Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4–5): 715–41.
Medina, Luis Fernando, and Stokes, Susan. 2007. “Monopoly and Monitoring: An Approach to Political Clientelism.” In Patrons, Clients, and Policies, ed. Kitschelt, Herbert and Wilkinson, Steven. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 6883.
Mill, John Stuart. [1865] 1998. “Considerations on Representative Government.” In On Liberty and Other Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moore, Barrington. 1967. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Bostons: Beacon Press.
Moore, David Cresap. 1976. The Politics of Deference: A Study of the Mid-Nineteenth Century English Political System. New York: Harvester Press.
Muller, Edward, and Seligson, Mitchell. 1987. “Inequality and Insurgency.” American Political Science Review 81: 425–52.
Muncy, Lysbeth. 1944. The Junker: In the Prussian Administration under William II, 1888–1914. Providence, RI: Brown University.
Neffe, M. 1901. Statistisches Jahrbuch Deutscher Städte. Breslau: Verlag von Rorn.
Nichter, Simeon. 2008. “Vote Buying or Turnout Buying? Machine Politics and the Secret Ballot.” American Political Science Review 102 (1): 1931.
Nossiter, T. J. 1974. Influence, Opinion and Political Idioms in Reformed England. New York: Harper Row.
O'Leary, Cornelius. 1962. The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Peltzman, Sam. 1976. “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation.” Journal of Law and Economics 19: 211–40.
Posado-Carbo, Eduardo, ed. 1996. Elections before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America. London: Macmillan Press.
Prengel, T. 1892. “Beiträge zur Wahlprüfungssatistik des deutschen Reichstages, 1871–1890.” Annalen des Deutschen Reiches [Contribution to Election Dispute Statistics in the German Reichstag, 1871–1890]: 25–90.
Preussische Innenministerium. 1891. Handbuch über den koeniglichen Preussischen Hof und Staat fuer das Jahr 1892. Berlin: [Handbook of the Prussian Court and State for the Year 1892].
Przeworski, Adam. 1986. “Some Problems in the Study of the Transition to Democracy.” In Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, ed. O'Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe, and Whitehead, Laurence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Przeworski, Adam. 1991. Democracy and the Market. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael E., Cheibub, José A., and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Quirk, Paul. 1981. Industry Influence in Federal Regulatory Agencies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Reibel, Carl-Wilhelm. 2007. Handbuch der Reichstagwahlen, 1890–1918 [Handbook of Reichstag Elections, 1890–1918] Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag.
Reif, Heinz. 1999. Adel im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag.
Retallack, James. 1988. Notables of the Right,: The Conservative Party and Political Mobilization in Germany, 1876–1918. Boston: Unwin.
Russett, Bruce. 1964. “Inequality and Instability: The Relation of Land Tenure to Politics.” World Politics 16 (3): 442–54.
Schaffer, Charles Frederic, ed. 2007. Elections for Sale: The Causes and Consequences of Vote Buying. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Schedler, Andreas, ed. 2006. Electoral Authoritarianism: The Dynamics of Unfree Competition. Boulder, CO: Lynee Rienner.
Schedler, Andreas 2002. “The Nested Game of Democratization by Elections.” International Political Science Review 23: 103123.
Schmädeke, Jürgen. 1995. Wählerbewegung im Wilhelmieischen Deutschland: die Reichstagswahlen von 1890 bis 1912. [Voter Movements in Wilhelmmine Germany]. Vol. 2. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
Schmitter, Philippe and Karl, Terry. 1991. “What Democracy is . . . And is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2 (3): 7588.
Seawright, Jason, and Gerring, John. 2008. “Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research: A Menu of Qualitative and Quantitative Options.” Political Research Quarterly 61 (2): 294308.
Sheehan, James. 1978. German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Simpser, Alberto. 2005. “Making Votes Not Count: Strategic Incentives for Electoral Corruption.” Ph.D. diss. Stanford University.
Sokoloff, Kenneth, and Engerman, Stanley. 2000. “History Lessons: Institutions, Factors Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (3): 217–32.
Stenographische Berichte. 1871–1912. Deutsche Reichstag, 8th Legislative Period, Vols. 129–51.
Stigler, George. 1971. “The Theory of Economic Regulation.” Bett Journal of Economics and Management Science 2: 321.
Süle, Tibor. 1989. Preussische Bürokratietradition. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.
Suval, Stanley. 1985. Electoral Politics in Wilhelmine Germany. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Thompson, Dennis. 2002. Just Elections: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tilly, Charles. 2007. Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
von Gerlach, Helmut. 1925. Errinerungen eines Junkers [Memoir of a Junker] Berlin: Die Welt am Montag.
von Winterfeldt, Joachim. 1942. Jahreszeiten des Lebens [Seasons of Life] Berlin: Propylän-Verlag.
Wagner, Patrick. 2005. Bauern, Junker und Beamte: Lokale Herrschaft und Partizipation im Ostelbien des 19. Jahrhunderts. [Farmer, Junker, and Bureaucrat] Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.
Wehler, Hans-Ulrich. 1983. Das deutsche Kaiserreich, 1871–1918. [The German Empire, 1871–1918] Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.
Ziblatt, Daniel. 2006. “How Did Europe Democratize.” World Politics 58 (2): 311–38.
Ziblatt, Daniel. 2008. “Does Landholding Inequality Block Democratization? A Test of the ‘Bread and Democracy’ Thesis and the Case of Prussia.World Politics 60 (4): 610–41.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 30
Total number of PDF views: 516 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1262 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th September 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.