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The Observer Effect in International Politics: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

  • Susan D. Hyde (a1)

By pressuring governments to hold democratic elections and by becoming directly involved in the electoral process through technical assistance and funding or as election monitors, international actors now play a visible role in domestic elections and other democratic processes throughout the developing world. Although scholars have documented several macrolevel relationships between international-level variables and movement toward democracy, there has been little attention paid to the microlevel effects of international involvement in the democratization process. This article examines the effects of international election observation as a prominent form of international involvement in domestic elections and exploits a natural experiment in order to test whether international observers reduce election fraud. Using data from the 2003 presidential elections in Armenia, the article demonstrates that although observers may not eliminate election fraud, they can reduce election-day fraud at the polling stations they visit. The unusual advantage of experiment-like conditions for this study offers unique causal evidence that international actors can have direct, measurable effects on the level of election-day fraud and, by extension, on the democratization process.

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1 For examples of this literature, see Drake Paul W. ”The International Causes of Democratization, 1974–1990,” in Drake Paul and McCubbins Matthew, eds., The Origins of Liberty: Political and Economic Liberalization in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); Gleditsch Kristian S., All International Politics Is Local: The Diffusion of Conflict, Integration, and Democratiza tion (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002); Gleditsch Kristian S. and Ward Michael D., ”Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization,” International Organization 60 (October 2006); Levitsky Steven and Way Lucan, ”International Linkage and Democratization,” Journal of Democracy 16 (July 2005); Pevehouse Jon C., ”Democracy from the Outside-In? International Orga nizations and Democratization,” International Organization 56 (August 2002); idem, Democracyfrom Above? Regional Organizations and Democratization (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2005); Schmitter Philippe C., ”The Influence of the International Context upon the Choice of National Institutions and Policies in Neo-Democracies,” in Whitehead Laurence, ed., The International Dimensions ofDemocratization: Europe and theAmericas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Whitehead Laurence, ed., The International Dimensions ofDemocratization: Europe and the Americas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). For work specifically addressing international influences on elections, see Chand Vikram K., ”Democratisation from the Outside In: NGO and International Efforts to Promote Open Elections,” Third World Quarterly 18 (September 1997); Elklit Jorgen and Svensson Palle, ”What Makes Elections Free and Fair?” Journalof Democracy 8 (July 1997); Laakso Liisa, ”The Politics of International Election Observation: The Case of Zimbabwe in 2000,” Journal of Modern African Studies 40 (September 2002).

2 Gleditsch and Ward (fn. 1).

3 Author's calculations. Evidence of the trend is presented in Bjornlund Eric C., BeyondFree and Fair: Monitoring Elections and Building Democracy (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004).

4 Carothers Thomas, ”The Observers Observed,” Journal ofDemocracy 8 (July 1997).

5 Przeworski , ”Institutions Matter?” Government and Opposition 39 (Autumn 2004), 528.

6 Dahl Robert A., Polyarchy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); Diamond Larry J., ”Is the Third Wave Over?” Journal of Democracy 7 (July 1996); Powell G. Bingham Jr., Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2000); Przeworski Adam, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Schumpeter Joseph A., Capitalism, Socialism andDemocracy (New York: Harper, 1942).

7 Riker William H., Democracy in the United States (New York: Macmillan Company, 1965), 25.

8 Przeworski (fn. 6); Powell (fn. 6).

9 Cox Gary W. and Kousser J. Morgan, ”Turnout and Rural Corruption: New York as a Test Case,” American Journal of Political Science IS (November 1981); Lehoucq Fabrice E. and Molina Ivan, Stuffing the Ballot Box: Fraud, Electoral Reform, and Democratization in Costa Rica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

10 Dahl Robert A., On Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

11 Fearon James D., ”Self-enforcing Democracy” (Manuscript, Institution of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley, April 2006). This argument is generally based on Przeworski (fn. 6) and Weingast Barry R., ”The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of haw,” Ameri-can Political Science Review 91 (June 1997). See also Tucker Joshua A., ”Enough! Electoral Fraud, Collective Action Problems, and Post-Communist Colored Revolutions,” Perspectives on Politics 5 (September 2007).

12 Simmons Beth A. and Martin Lisa L., ”Theories and Empirical Studies of International Institutions,” International Organization 52 (October 1998).

13 Gourevitch Peter G., ”The Second Image Reversed,” International Organization 32 (Autumn 1978); Putnam Robert D., ”Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988).

14 Santiso Carlos, ”International Cooperation for Democracy and Good Governance: Moving toward a Second Generation?” EuropeanJournal ofDevelopment Research 13 (June 2001).

15 Carothers Thomas, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), 8.

16 Myagkov Mikhail, Ordeshook Peter C., and Shakin Dimitry, ”Fraud and Fairytales: Russia and Ukraine's Electoral Experience,” Post-SovietAffairs 21 (April-June 2005).

17 Bjornlund (fn. 3); Carothers (fn. 4); Carothers (fn. 15).

18 The statement is made based on the reading of numerous international observer reports citing firsthand evidence of election fraud.

19 Schedler , ”The Nested Game of Democratization by Elections,” International Political Science Review 23 (January 2002).

20 Bremmer Ian and Welt Cory, ”Armenia's New Autocrats,” Journal of Democracy 8 (July 1997), 78.

21 Ibid.

22 Diamond Larry J., Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 55.

23 Bremmer and Welt (fn. 20).

24 OSCE/ODIHR, Final Report on Presidential Elections in Armenia, 19 February and 5 March 2003 (Warsaw: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2003).

25 Armenian politics are characterized by violence, which overshadowed the 2003 elections. Most notably, in 1999, the parliament was attacked by gunmen, and eight prominent politicians were assassinated. The 2003 presidential elections were the first to be held after the attack.

26 Gerber Alan S. and Green Donald P., ”The Effects of Canvassing, Phone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment,” American Political Science Review 94 (September 2000); Miguel Edward and Kremer Michael, ”Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities,” Econometrica 72 (January 2004); Olken Benjamin, ”Monitoring Corruption: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia,” Journal ofPolitical Economy 115 (April 2007); Wantchekon Leonard, ”Clientelism and Voting Behavior: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Benin,” World Politics 55 (April 2003).

11 For examples of natural experiments, see Snow John, On the Mode of Communication ofCholera (London: Churchill, 1849); and Galiani Sebastian and Schargrodsky Ernesto, ”Property Rights for the Poor: Effects of Land Titling” (Manuscript, March 16, 2006).

28 Thad Dunning, ”Improving Causal Inference: Strengths and Limitations of Natural Experiments” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., August 31-September 4,2005).

29 Guan Mei and Green Donald P., ”Noncoercive Mobilization in State-Controlled Elections: An Experimental Study in Beijing,” Comparative Political Studies 39 (December 2006); Humphreys Macartan, Masters William A., and Sandbu Martin E., ”The Role of Leaders in Democratic Deliberations: Results from a Field Experiment in Sao Tome e Principe,” World Politics 58 (July 2006); Wantchekon (fn. 26).

30 Gerber Alan S., Green Donald P., and Kaplan Edward H., ”The Illusion of Learning from Observational Research,” Working Paper (New Haven: Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, 2002).

31 Druckman James N., Green Donald P., Kuklinski James H., and Lupia Arthur, ”The Growth and Development of Experimental Research in Political Science,” American Political Science Review 100 (November 2006), 627.

32 Economist, ”Democracy, It's Wonderful,” February 22,2003.

33 Government-reported election results were made available online at by the Central Election Commission of Armenia.

34 Even if this information were inaccurately communicated to me, if observers were more likely to visit stations they believe to be problematic, as suggested by one reviewer, then this would dampen an observed effect of observers on fraud. For the reasons cited, however, this is an unlikely scenario.

35 Carothers (fn. 4); Geisler Gisela, ”Fair? What Has Fairness Got to Do with It? Vagaries of Election Observations and Democratic Standards,” Journal of Modern African Studies 31 (December 1993).

36 The same tests for the other candidates are available upon request. They do not change the conclusions drawn from these results.

37 Outside of the Yerevan region (where polling stations were equally likely to be visited in both rounds) polling stations that were visited in round 1 were twice as likely to be visited again in round 2.

38 Additional tests compare vote share for all candidates and show that the only candidate to perform better in unmonitored polling stations was Sargsian, who received only 0.04 percent more of the vote in unmonitored polling stations.

39 Demirchian vote share is used to make the comparison clearer. If there were systematic biases in the polling stations monitored in round 2, they should show as a statistically significant difference between these two groups. Comparisons using round 1 Kocharian vote share are available from the author, but for reasons that are likely related to polling-station accessibility, round 1-monitored polling stations are more likely to be monitored in round 2, thus making it unlikely that observed round 1 Kocharian vote share would be statistically independent of round 2 monitoring.

40 1 am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this be included as an alternative explana-tion.

41 In thefirstround, observers visited 42 percent of polling stations. The 5.8 percent average reduction in Kocharian vote share, reflected nationally, was 2.44 percent (aggregate observer effect = 42% * 5.8%).

42 Olken (fn. 26).

* I wish to acknowledge valuable comments on previous drafts from Eric Bjornlund, Carew Bould-ing, Gary Cox, Don Green, Thad Dunning, Clark Gibson, Kristian Gleditsch, Peter Gourevitch, David Lake, Mat McCubbins, Irfan Nooruddin, Elizabeth Saunders, Sue Stokes, and the participants in several seminars. I also thank Anders Eriksson for making information available for this project. Any remaining errors are my own. I am grateful for research support from Yale University, the University of California's Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation, and the Brookings Institution.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
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