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How and Why Armed Groups Participate in Elections

  • Aila M. Matanock and Paul Staniland


Armed actors are often involved in electoral politics, from the fusing of ballots and bullets in armed political parties to insurgents covertly backing politicians. We develop new concepts and theory to better understand these complex relationships between violent actors and democratic practice. We first offer a novel conceptualization of armed groups’ electoral strategies that systematically maps out variation in the organizational directness and public openness of groups’ involvement in elections. We then use comparative case studies to develop theory about the conditions under which each of these electoral strategies is most likely, and what can trigger changes between them. The interaction of armed groups’ power and expectations of popular support with governments’ policies of toleration or repression determines the strategies of electoral participation that groups pursue. These concepts and arguments lay the foundation for a systematic research agenda on when and how “normal” and armed politics become intertwined.



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The authors thank Sarah Daly, Ursula Daxecker, Reyko Huang, John Ishiyama, Peter Krause, Ben Lessing, Katerina Linos, Alison Post, Abbey Steele, Forrest Stuart, four excellent and demanding anonymous reviewers, the editors of Perspectives on Politics, and the participants at the 2016 APSA Annual Meeting, 2016 Peace Science Society Conference, 2017 International Studies Association Annual Convention, and 2017 Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society for invaluable comments.



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