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Information and Self-Enforcing Democracy: The Role of International Election Observation


This article argues that when democracy is not yet institutionalized, leaders have little incentive to push for clean elections, in part because they are likely to face accusations of fraud from domestic opposition groups regardless of their true behavior. Reputable international election observers can facilitate self-enforcing democracy by providing credible information about the quality of elections, thus increasing citizens’ ability to coordinate against the regime when election fraud occurs, and discrediting “sore loser” protests. Patterns of postelection protests are consistent with the argument, including that postelection protests are more likely and last longer following negative reports from international observers. International election observers help promote democracy by making postelection protest more accurate in the short term, thereby increasing incentives for leaders to hold democratic elections in the long term.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
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