When electoral competition is high, political parties invest more in both licit and illicit campaign strategies. Under illicit strategies, parties may use non-violent or violent tactics. The EVaP project studies the instrumental use of violence as an..
When electoral competition is high, political parties invest more in both licit and illicit campaign strategies. Under illicit strategies, parties may use non-violent or violent tactics. The EVaP project studies the instrumental use of violence as an electoral strategy. There is a long-standing literature demonstrating that political elites use violence as a tool to achieve political ends. According to this argument, the instrumental purpose of violence is not to inflict maximum damage or change the society and institutions in fundamental ways but to achieve limited political goals. Since the instrumental logic is so closely linked to acquiring and maintaining power and is limited in purpose and scope, the project argues that it is particularly well suited for explaining campaign violence.
The first study under this theme examines the role of inter-group inequality and electoral competition in explaining the timing of ethno-religious riots in India. The study argues that to be politically competitive, nationalist politicians need their supporters to identify foremost with their ethnic identity. When inequality within groups is high and/or inequality between groups is low, citizens are less likely to focus on ethnicity as their primary identity. In such contexts, politicians use communal riots to improve their electoral prospects by reinforcing the salience of ethnicity.
A second study within this theme argues that the logic of subnational electoral competition—with it incentives for violence—differs in presidential and legislative elections. In presidential or national-level elections, parties are incentivized to demobilize voters with violence in their competitors strongholds. In contrast, election violence is subject to district-level incentives in legislative elections. District-level incentives imply that parties focus on winning the majority of districts, and therefore center violent campaigning on the most competitive districts.
In a third ongoing project, we argue that political elites use violence not only for its deterrent but also its mobilising effects. This goes against standard instrumental accounts which suggest that politicians use violence mainly to reduce turnout among non-supporters. We focus on the communicative aspect of violence and argue that it implies two instrumental motives with distinct empirical implications. On the one hand, violence can be used to scare non-supporters and deter them from voting, as current work implies. On the other hand, violence can also aim to polarise the electorate and even increase support for politicians complicit with or responsible for the violence. We empirically assess our expectations using novel micro-level data for more than 90,000 polling booths from West Bengal, India, a context that matches our scope conditions of routine political violence and competitive elections.