Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-gfk6d Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-30T12:52:57.769Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Why Do States Intervene in the Elections of Others? The Role of Incumbent–Opposition Divisions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2020

Johannes Bubeck
Independent scholar
Kai Jäger
Department of Political Economy, King's College London, Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim
Nikolay Marinov*
Department of Political Science, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Federico Nanni
Alan Turing Institute, British Library, London
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Why do states intervene in elections abroad? This article argues that outsiders intervene when the main domestic contenders for office adopt policy positions that differ from the point of view of the outside power. It refers to the split between the government's and opposition's positions as policy polarization. Polarization between domestic political forces, rather than the degree of unfriendliness of the government in office, attracts two types of interventions: process (for or against democracy) and candidate (for or against the government) interventions. The study uses a novel, original data set to track local contenders’ policy positions. It shows that the new policy polarization measurement outperforms a number of available alternatives when it comes to explaining process and candidate interventions. The authors use this measurement to explain the behavior of the United States as an intervener in elections from 1945 to 2012. The United States is more likely to support the opposition, and the democratic process abroad, if a pro-US opposition is facing an anti-US government. It is more likely to support the government, and undermine the democratic process abroad, if a pro-US government is facing an anti-US opposition. The article also presents the results for all interveners, confirming the results from the US case.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bailey, MA, Strezhnev, A and Voeten, E (2017) Estimating dynamic state preferences from United Nations voting data. Journal of Conflict Resolution 61(2), 430456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bawn, K and Somer-Topcu, Z (2012) Government versus opposition at the polls: how governing status affects the impact of policy positions. American Journal of Political Science 56(2), 433446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brazys, S and Panke, D (2017) Why do states change positions in the United Nations General Assembly? International Political Science Review 38(1), 7084.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bubeck, J and Marinov, N (2017) Process or candidate: the international community and the demand for electoral integrity. American Political Science Review 111(3), 535554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bubeck, J, Jäger, K, Marinov, N, Nanni, F (2020) “Replication Data for: Why Do States Intervene in the Elections of Others? The Role of Incumbent-Opposition Divisions”,, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:Ncx+Elnj4A6EQKBT5O8fFg== [fileUNF]CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Budge, I et al. (2001) Mapping Policy Preferences. Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments 1945–1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Bush, S and Prather, L (2018) Who's there? Election observer identity and the local credibility of elections. International Organization 72(3), 659692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carter, DB and Stone, RW (2016) Democracy and multilateralism: the case of vote buying in the UN General Assembly. International Organization 69, 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chelotti, N, Dasandi, N and Mikhaylov, SJ (2019) Do intergovernmental organizations have a socialization effect on member state preferences? Evidence from the UN General Debate. Unpublished Working Paper, pp. 162.Google Scholar
Chiozza, G (2009) Anti-Americanism and the American World Order. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.Google Scholar
Coppedge, M et al. (2016). V-Dem codebook v6. University of Gothenburg, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corstange, D and Marinov, N (2012) Taking sides in other people's elections: the polarizing effect of foreign intervention. American Journal of Political Science 53, 655670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dafoe, A, Oneal, JR and Russett, B (2013) The democratic peace: weighing the evidence and cautious inference. International Studies Quarterly 57(1), 201214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Debs, A and Goemans, H (2010) Regime type, the fate of leaders, and war. American Political Science Review 104, 430445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donno, D (2013) Defending Democratic Norms: International Actors and the Politics of Electoral Misconduct. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
D'Orazio, V et al. (2014) Separating the wheat from the chaff: applications of automated document classification using support vector machines. Political analysis 22(2), 224242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dreher, A, Nunnenkamp, P and Thiele, R (2008) Does US aid buy UN General Assembly votes? A disaggregated analysis. Public Choice 136, 139164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gilpin, R (1987) The Political Economy of International Relations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goemans, HE, Gleditsch, KS and Chiozza, G (2009) Introducing Archigos: a dataset of political leaders. Journal of Peace Research 46(2), 269283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grauvogel, J, Licht, A and von Soest, C (2017) Sanctions and signals: how international sanction threats trigger domestic protest in targeted regimes. International Studies Quarterly 61(1), 8697.Google Scholar
Häge, FM (2011) Choice or circumstance? Adjusting measures of foreign policy similarity for chance agreement. Political Analysis 19(3), 287305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Häge, FM and Hug, S (2013) Consensus voting and similarity measures in IOs. EPSA 2013 Annual General Conference Paper 207, pp. 132.Google Scholar
Hillard, D, Purpura, S and Wilkerson, J (2008) Computer-assisted topic classification for mixed-methods social science research. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 4(4), 3146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hobson, C (2017) Democratic peace: progress and crisis. Perspectives on Politics 15(3), 697710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hyde, S (2011) The Pseudo-Democrats Dilemma: Why Election Observation Became an International Norm. Ithaca, NY: Cornell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hyde, SD and Marinov, N (2012) Which elections can be lost? Political Analysis 20(2), 191210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jäger, K (2017) Economic freedom in the early 21st century: government ideology still matters. Kyklos 70(2), 256277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jäger, K (2018) The limits of studying networks via event data: evidence from the ICEWS dataset. Journal of Global Security Studies 3(4), 498511.Google Scholar
Joachims, T (1998) Text categorization with support vector machines: learning with many relevant features. European Conference on Machine Learning. Berlin: Springer, pp. 137142.Google Scholar
Kavakli, KC and Kuhn, PM (2020) Dangerous contenders: election monitors, Islamic opposition parties and Islamist terrorism. International Organization 74(1), 145164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kim, SY and Russett, B (1996) The new politics of voting alignments in the United Nations General Assembly. International Organization 50(4), 629652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kinne, BJ (2012) Multilateral trade and militarized conflict: centrality, openness, and asymmetry in the global trade network. The Journal of Politics 74(1), 308322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Knutsen, CH, Nygård, HM and Wig, T (2017) Autocratic elections: stabilizing tool or force for change? World Politics 69(1), 98143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lake, D (2007) Escape from the state of nature: authority and hierarchy in world politics. International Security 32, 4779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levin, DH (2016) When the great power gets a vote: the effects of great power electoral interventions on election results. International Studies Quarterly 60(2), 189202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lijphart, A (1963) The analysis of bloc voting in the General Assembly: a critique and a proposal. American Political Science Review 57(4), 902917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Magu, R and Mateos, G (2018) United Nations General Assembly vote similarity networks. In Cherifi, C et al. (eds), Complex Networks & Their Applications VI. Berlin: Springer, pp. 11741183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Manning, C, Raghavan, P and Schütze, H (2008) Introduction to Information Retrieval. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Manning, CD, Manning, CD and Schütze, H (1999) Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Márin-Bosch, M (1987) How nations vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations. International Organization 41(4), 705724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McLean, EV and Radtke, MT (2018) 06). Political relations, leader stability, and economic coercion. International Studies Quarterly 62(2), 357370.Google Scholar
Merz, N, Regel, S and Lewandowski, J (2016) The manifesto corpus: a new resource for research on political parties and quantitative text analysis. Research & Politics 3(2), 18. Doi:10.1177/2053168016643346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mikolov, T et al. (2013) Distributed representations of words and phrases and their compositionality. In Proceedings on the 26th International Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, pp. 31113119.Google Scholar
Nanni, F et al. (2019) Political text scaling meets computational semantics. arXiv preprint arXiv:1904.06217.Google Scholar
Rheault, L and Cochrane, C (2020) Word embeddings for the analysis of ideological placement in parliamentary corpora. Political Analysis 28(1), 112133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Russett, B, Oneal, J and Davis, D (1999) The third leg of the Kantian Tripod for peace: international organizations and militarized disputes, 1950–1985. International Organization 52, 441467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saunders, E and Lebovic, J (2016) The diplomatic core: the determinants of high-level US diplomatic visits, 1946–2010. International Studies Quarterly 60(1), 107123.Google Scholar
Saunders, E and Wolford, S (2018) Elites, voters, and democracies at war. Working Paper. Georgetown University and UT Austin.Google Scholar
Shulman, S and Bloom, S (2012) The legitimacy of foreign intervention in elections: the Ukrainian response. Review of International Studies 61(6), 445471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stokes, S (2001) Mandates and Democracy: Neoliberalism by Surprise in Latin America. New York: Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomz, M and Weeks, J (2019) Public opinion and foreign electoral intervention. Working Paper. Stanford University and University of Wisconsin Madison.Google Scholar
Voeten, E (2012) Data and analyses of voting in the UN General Assembly. SSRN Electronic Journal, 123. Available from Scholar
Volkens, A et al. (2018) The Manifesto data collection. Manifesto Project (mrg/cmp/marpor). version 2018b.Google Scholar
Wagner, W et al. (2017) The party politics of legislative–executive relations in security and defence policy. West European Politics 40(1), 2041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wagner, W et al. (2018) Party politics at the water's edge: contestation of military operations in Europe. European Political Science Review 10(4), 537563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walter, S et al. (2018) Noncooperation by popular vote: expectations, foreign intervention, and the vote in the 2015 Greek bailout referendum. International Organization 72(4), 969994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, TY (1999) U.S. foreign aid and UN voting: an analysis of important issues. International Studies Quarterly 43(1), 199210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wittner, L (1982) American Intervention in Greece, 1943–1949. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Zilliacus, KOK (1995) Finländsk kommunism i ljuset av väljarstöd 1945–1991 [Finnish communism in light of voter support]. In Bidrag till kännedom av Finlands natur och folk [Contribution to Knowledge of Finland's Nature and People, H. 149. Swedish, ed. Helsingfors, Finland: Finska vetenskabs-societen.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: Link

Bubeck et al. Dataset

Supplementary material: PDF

Bubeck et al. supplementary material


Download Bubeck et al. supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 596 KB