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Who's There? Election Observer Identity and the Local Credibility of Elections

  • Sarah Sunn Bush and Lauren Prather

Prior research has sought to understand the rise of election observers and their consequences for outcomes such as fraud, protest, and violence. These studies are important but they overlook a significant individual-level dynamic that observers themselves care about: the effect that election observers have on local attitudes about elections. We argue that the activities of election observers can enhance elections' local credibility, but only when locals perceive observers as being both capable of detecting fraud and unbiased in that pursuit. Not all observer groups are seen as equally capable and unbiased. Evidence from a large-scale, nationally representative experiment in Tunisia supports the argument. A key finding is that observers from the Arab League—an organization criticized internationally for low-quality election observation—enhanced credibility the most because they were perceived locally as both relatively capable and unbiased.

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International Organization
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