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Enough! Electoral Fraud, Collective Action Problems, and Post-Communist Colored Revolutions

  • Joshua A. Tucker (a1)

In countries where citizens have strong grievances against the regime, attempts to address these grievances in the course of daily life are likely to entail high costs coupled with very low chances of success in any meaningful sense; consequently, most citizens will choose not to challenge the regime, thus reflecting the now well-known collective action problem. When a regime commits electoral fraud, however, an individual's calculus regarding whether to participate in a protest against the regime can be changed significantly. This argument yields important implications for how we interpret the wave of “colored revolutions” that swept through Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in the first half of this decade. Applying the collective action framework to the colored revolutions also yields a parsimonious contribution to the political science literature on social protest: electoral fraud can be a remarkably useful tool for solving the collective action problems faced by citizens in countries where governments are not, to use Barry Weingast's language, appropriately restrained by the populace. While modest, such an observation actually can speak to a wide-ranging number of questions in the literature, including why people choose to protest when they do, how protests at one place and time can affect the likelihood for future protests, and new aspects of the relationship between elections and protest.Joshua A. Tucker is Associate Professor of Politics at New York University ( He would like to thank participants in the First and Second Danyliw Research Seminars in Contemporary Ukrainian Studies hosted by the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa and the Kennan Institute Workshop on Ukrainian Civil Society for many helpful comments and suggestions on developing the arguments contained in this article. He would also like to thank Dominique Arel, Jessica Allina-Pisano, Mark Beissinger, Valerie Bunce, Paul D'Anieri, Jerry Hough, Jason Lyall, Grigore Pop-Eleches, Lucan Way, and William Zimmerman for their time in commenting on earlier drafts of the paper, as well as the anonymous reviewers at Perspective on Politics. Marc Berenson and Matthew Berner provided excellent research assistance.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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