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

  • Susan D. Hyde (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 June 2011

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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Kristian S. Gleditsch , All International Politics Is Local: The Diffusion of Conflict, Integration, and Democratiza tion (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way , ”International Linkage and Democratization,” Journal of Democracy 16 (July 2005

Vikram K. Chand , ”Democratisation from the Outside In: NGO and International Efforts to Promote Open Elections,” Third World Quarterly 18 (September 1997

Larry J. Diamond , ”Is the Third Wave Over?” Journal of Democracy 7 (July 1996

Gary W. Cox and J. Morgan Kousser , ”Turnout and Rural Corruption: New York as a Test Case,” American Journal of Political Science IS (November 1981

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

Edward Miguel and Michael Kremer , ”Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities,” Econometrica 72 (January 2004

Benjamin Olken , ”Monitoring Corruption: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia,” Journal ofPolitical Economy 115 (April 2007

Mei Guan and Donald P. Green , ”Noncoercive Mobilization in State-Controlled Elections: An Experimental Study in Beijing,” Comparative Political Studies 39 (December 2006

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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