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When Do Governments Resort to Election Violence?

  • Emilie M. Hafner-Burton, Susan D. Hyde and Ryan S. Jablonski

When are governments most likely to use election violence, and what factors can mitigate government incentives to resort to violence? How do the dynamics of election violence differ in the pre- and post-election periods? The central argument of this article is that an incumbent's fear of losing power as the result of an election, as well as institutionalized constraints on the incumbent's decision-making powers, are pivotal in her decision to use election violence. While it may seem obvious to suggest that incumbents use election violence in an effort to fend off threats to their power, it is not obvious how to gauge these threats. Thus, a central objective of this article is to identify sources of information about the incumbent's popularity that can help predict the likelihood of election violence. The observable implications of this argument are tested using newly available cross-national evidence on elections, government use of pre- and post-election violence, and post-election protests from 1981 to 2004.

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School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego (email:; Department of Political Science, Yale University (email: and Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego (email: Support for this research was provided by the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. Replication data and an online appendix are available at For helpful comments, we would like to thank participants at workshops at the University of California at San Diego, George Washington University, Yale University and panel participants at the 2010 ISA annual meeting, as well as Jason Brownlee, Sarah Bush, Gary Cox, David Cingranelli, Daniela Donno, Christian Davenport, Thad Dunning, Christopher Fariss, Tom Flores, David Lake, Ellen Lust, Irfan Nooruddin, Philip Roeder, Ken Scheve and Susan Stokes. We also thank Sarah Knoesen, Michael Plouffe and Kristy Pathakis for valuable research assistance. Any errors or omissions are our own.

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