Bartels L., Ursula Daxecker, Susan Hyde, Staffan Lindberg, & Irfan Nooruddin. (2023). The Forum: Global challenges to democracy? Perspectives on democratic backsliding. International Studies Review, 25(2).
There is a widespread perception that we are witnessing a period of democratic decline, manifesting itself in varieties of democratic backsliding such as the manipulation of elections, marginalization and repression of regime opponents and minorities, or more incremental executive aggrandizement. Yet others are more optimistic and have argued that democracy is in fact resilient, or that we are observing coinciding trends of democratic decline but also expansion. This forum highlights key issues in the debate on democracy’s decline, which center on conceptual and measurement issues, agreement on the phenomenon but not its nature or severity, the importance of international factors, the emphasis we should put on political elites versus citizens, and the consequences of backsliding for global politics. Staffan I. Lindberg provides an empirical perspective on the scope and severity of democracy’s decline, and argues that polarization and misinformation are important drivers for this current wave of autocratization. Susan D. Hyde highlights the detrimental consequences of reduced support for democracy by the international community, which has affected civil society organizations—important arbiters of democracy—especially severely. Challenging some of these conclusions, Irfan Nooruddin claims that any gains for democracy after the end of the Cold War were short-lived, failing to sustain democracy because of an overemphasis on elections and a disregard for structural factors. Finally, Larry M. Bartels argues that we need to look to political elites and not citizens if we want to protect democracy in the United States and elsewhere, which has important implications for how we study democracy and its challenges.
Daxecker Ursula & Mascha Rauschenbach. (2023). Election type and the logic of pre-election violence: Evidence from Zimbabwe. Electoral Studies, Volume 82.
Election violence is often conceptualized as a form of coercive campaigning, but the literature has not fully explored how electoral institutions shape incentives for competition and violence. We argue that the logic of subnational electoral competition – and with it incentives for violence – differs in presidential and legislative elections. In presidential elections, national-level considerations dominate incentives for violence. Presidential elections are usually decided by winning a majority of votes in a single, national district, incentivizing parties to demobilize voters with violence in 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. We test our argument with georeferenced, constituency-level data from Zimbabwe, a case that fits our scope conditions of holding competitive elections, routine violence by the incumbent, and majoritarian electoral rule. We find that most violence takes place in strongholds in presidential elections, especially in opposition strongholds. In contrast, competitive constituencies are targeted in legislative contests.
Fubara Maureen (2023). Reconciling changing positionalities: Reflections from my fieldwork in Nigeria. Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, 21 (1), 20-23. Spring issue.
The actor reflects on her dissertation fieldwork experience in Nigeria. This article adds to the growing literature on positionality.
H Zeynep Bulutgil, and Neeraj Prasad. (2023). Inequality, elections, and communal riots in India. Journal of Peace Research, 1-15.
How does inequality within and between ethno-religious groups influence the likelihood and frequency of communalriots? Using evidence from India,this article finds that low within-group and high between-group inequality dampens the likelihood and frequency of communal riots. Theoretically, the article suggests that the instrumental logic, which posits that ethno-nationalist politicians use violence to stoke ethnic cleavages and mobilize support, best accounts for this finding. We argue that to be politically competitive, ethno-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 may use communal riots to improve their electoral prospects by reinforcing the salience of ethnicity. Empirically, the article relies on a time-series cross-district analysis of inequality and Hindu-Muslim riots in India to test the instrumental argument against theoretical alternatives. To illustrate the causal logic, the article also uses the analysis of a communal riot that occurred in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Analyzing three aspects of the riot—background conditions, timing, targets of propaganda—we evaluate the different predictions of the instrumental argument. The article concludes with the suggestion that communal riots are distinct from cases of mass violence—such as civil wars, genocide, and ethnic cleansing—and could be conceptualized, along with other types of small-scale political violence, as a separate class of events with their own internal logic.
Daxecker Ursula & Hanne Fjelde. (2022). “Electoral violence, partisan identity, and perceptions of election quality: A survey experiment in West Bengal, India.” Comparative Politics, 55(1), 47-69.
What are the consequences of election violence for citizens’ political attitudes? We argue that in polarized contexts, citizens’ interpretation of electoral violence depends on their partisan affiliations. When presented with information alleging co-partisans’ involvement in violence, people with strong partisan identities become more likely to assert that elections were free and fair. We test this expectation with a vignette experiment in West Bengal after India’s 2019 elections, presenting respondents with information about violence while varying the partisan identity of the perpetrator. Consistent with expectations, supporters of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) increased their evaluations of election quality when hearing about co-partisan violence. We find no evidence of disconfirmation bias for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters; their recent shift to the party plausibly explains this finding.
Borzyskowski Inken von, Ursula Daxecker , and Patrick Kuhn. (2021). “Fear of campaign violence and support for democracy and autocracy.” Conflict Management and Peace Science Journal, 39 (5).
Election violence is common in many developing countries and has potentially detrimental implications for democratic consolidation. Drawing on political psychology, we argue that citizens’ fear of campaign violence undermines support for democracy while increasing support for autocracy. Using individual-level survey data from 21 electoral democracies in Sub-Saharan Africa, we find robust support for our argument. Citizens fearing campaign violence are less likely to support democracy and multi-party competition, more likely to favor a return to autocracy, and less likely to turn out to vote. Our findings have important implications for democratic survival and provide further impetus for reducing electoral violence.
Das Noyonika. (2023). Violence in local elections: Evidence from West Bengal, India.
Existing research shows that local elections can advance democratic accountability and participatory governance. However, this paper argues that local elections can have less benign consequences, potentially functioning as vehicles for coercion and dominance. When local offices are providers of public goods; electoral control of local offices becomes vital, incentivizing violence in local elections. The theory argues that incumbents are the primary perpetrators of violence and use violence in local elections for coercive control. Electoral violence is used to eliminate threats in elections and display the incumbent’s hegemony. The eastern Indian state of West Bengal is well-suited for testing this theory because it has held competitive local elections since the 1970s and has witnessed high levels of election violence. This paper uses quantitative methods to test the logic of incumbent-dominated violence. I test my theoretical expectations by creating a novel dataset of electoral results of over 2500 local electoral units in West Bengal. I also create an original dataset of violent events which occurred during the 2018 local elections in West Bengal, from national and regional newspapers. Using a combination of geospatial and statistical tools, evidence confirms that violence is used to systematically deter opponents in competitive local units.
Daxecker Ursula, Annekatrin Deglow & Hanne Fjelde. (2023). Voter intimidation as a tool of mobilization or demobilization? Evidence from a List Experiment in West Bengal
Violence against voters is used strategically during elections in many countries. While our understanding of overt and lethal forms of electoral violence has advanced greatly, we know much less about the micro-foundations of threats and intimidation. We present new theory and evidence on the repertoire of electoral intimidation, suggesting that threats can be used to deter rival party supporters from voting but also to mobilize citizens to vote for a particular party. We expect these strategies to unfold in the same electoral context, but differ in targeting and incidence; while threats to demobilize are concentrated in closely contested areas and occur more frequently overall, threats to mobilize target fewer voters and are centered in parties’ own strongholds. Recognizing the difficulty of surveying citizens about sensitive experiences, our empirical analysis relies on a list experiment embedded in an original survey conducted after the 2019 elections in the Indian state of West Bengal. The experiment allows for eliciting truthful responses about the prevalence of voter intimidation in a tense electoral setting, where respondents might have incentives not to reveal such experiences. Our findings support our expectations, showing that threats to mobilize citizens for a candidate or party are less prevalent than those aimed to demobilize them from voting altogether. We also find that citizens in party strongholds are more often targeted to vote for a particular party, whereas those in contested areas more often report violence intended to keep them from voting. These results show that areas without overt violence may nevertheless be highly coercive, underlining the importance of studying the full repertoire of electoral violence.
Daxecker Ursula & Neeraj Prasad. (2023). Poisoning your own well: Misinformation, issue entrepreneurship, and voter polarization in West Bengal, India
This paper examines the use of misinformation for polarizing voters on a radical new issue. While political parties routinely employ misinformation, its strategic purpose and effectiveness are not well understood. Drawing on work on issue entrepreneurship and polarization, we propose that opposition parties are most likely to rely on misinformation as a strategy to introduce radical new policy positions. Disadvantaged by the status quo of issue competition, opposition parties hope radical issues will polarize the electorate and draw in new voters. Misinformation is an attractive strategy for doing so because it is available to outsiders, allows for direct communication with voters, and circumvents traditional media and gatekeepers. Our empirical analysis draws on a pre-registered vignette experiment embedded in a representative survey conducted after West Bengal’s 2021 elections. In this election, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought to polarize voters on the state government’s role on religion. While a majority of voters preferred a secular government, the opposition spread false news alleging government favoritism towards religious out-groups, aiming to polarize voters into secular and majoritarian camps. Our experimental design mimics this strategy, randomly exposing subsets of voters to claims about out-group favoritism, in-group favoritism, correction treatments, and a control condition. We find that misinformation failed, for several reasons. First, the new issue reinforced partisan cleavages instead of cutting across them, persuading only BJP voters. Second, among BJP supporters, misinformation convinced only a subset of voters, effectively splitting the party into two camps. Finally, while some BJP voters were initially swayed by misinformation, they reverted back to secularism when exposed to a correction. Our study illustrates the incentives behind misinformation and the conditions under which it is likely to work, clarifying the supply-side dynamics of political misinformation.
Daxecker Ursula & Neeraj Prasad. (2023). Voting for violence: Examining support for violent parties in Uttar Pradesh, India
Existing studies show that voters not only dislike violence but also sanction parties and candidates for using it. But how do we reconcile these findings with the fairly frequent incidence of political violence in democracies? Why do voters in contexts with free and fair elections, mature parties, and high electoral competition vote for violent politicians? Departing from earlier work, we suggest that core and swing voters become more rather than less supportive of parties when exposed to information about violence, leading sanctioning to fail. During campaigns, parties instrumentalize violence for electoral benefit, constructing narratives around violence that portray it as a response to a threat or injustice. These grievance frames lead voters to approve of violence against out-groups. Moreover, when presented with a rationale for violence, voters may not only support violent actions by their party, but could even sanction peaceful responses. Empirically, the paper relies on pre-registered vignette experiments embedded in a representative survey of registered voters. We field our survey during the 2022 elections in Uttar Pradesh, a state of more than 200 million in India. These elections fit our scope conditions of free and fair elections while also experiencing persistent low-intensity violence against religious and ethnic out-groups. Our findings support expectations; when provided with a rationale for violence, voters are more likely to approve of it, and this finding holds for all voters. We also find support for sanctioning of peace among co-partisans, although this effect is limited to voters belonging to the majority group; i.e. Hindus. Specifically, BJP voters, upper caste Hindus, and non-Yadav OBCs become more supportive of their party when exposed to violent involvement of co-partisans, while they become less supportive if their party promotes peace.
Daxecker Ursula, & Neeraj Prasad. (2023). Misinformation, narratives and intergroup attitudes: Evidence from India
Existing research has prioritized citizens’ beliefs in misinformation and whether these beliefs can be corrected. Departing from this emphasis on first-order effects, we study whether, and how, misinformation affects downstream attitudes. We argue that misinformation induces affective shifts that increase out-group animosity and polarization. Politicians amplify these effects by embedding misinformation into larger narratives of threats or provocations by out-groups. Our empirical assessment relies on data from a pre-registered vignette experiment embedded in a representative survey conducted after the 2021 elections in West Bengal, India. We randomly assign respondents to a misinformation message that invokes salient identity cleavages, as well as corrective information, and explore the downstream effects on social attitudes. We find that citizens exposed to misinformation report more hostile attitudes towards out-groups compared to those who did not receive the prime. Corrective information fails to mitigate these negative effects, suggesting that the effect of misinformation may not operate through citizens’ factual beliefs. A mediation analysis confirms that misinformation worsens out-group attitudes largely through arousing prejudice rather than factual misperceptions that would merely require correcting. While it is known that directional motives aid the proliferation of misinformation messages on social media, our study shows that the misinformation itself can exacerbate these cleavages and deepen polarization.
Fubara Maureen. (2023). The spoils of office and election violence in Nigeria.
How do the spoils of office influence sub-national incumbents’ capacity for violence, and what are their implications for patterns of electoral violence? Existing research highlights incumbents as the primary perpetrators of election violence, however, we know much more about national incumbents’ roles than subnational ones. Hence we are limited in our understanding of why and how subnational incumbents engage in election violence, and the extent to which their capacity to do so varies. Departing from earlier work, I argue that variation in capacity is linked to the uneven distribution of the spoils of office in decentralized governance systems. Conceptualizing the spoils of office in fiscal terms as the public resources accessible to incumbents, I argue that incumbents with high spoils have more resources to hire violence specialists, while those with low spoils must recruit party supporters for violence. Violence specialists and party supporters differ in two important dimensions; in the way, they are recruited and in the type of violence repertoires they use. While violence specialists are hired for their proficiency in using broad repertoires of violence, party supporters use narrow repertoires. Empirically I find evidence to support the argument based on the qualitative interviews conducted in three Nigerian states; Lagos, Rivers, and Plateau, I corroborate these findings with observational data on election violence gathered from newspaper articles. The findings suggest that state incumbents use high spoils to maintain patronage linkages with violence specialists whose command of broad violence repertories is conducive to a high scale of violence. Moreover, in some high spoil areas, violence specialists perform dual mobilization and demobilization roles, which moderates the scale of violence. Conversely, in low spoil states, I find that supporters’ using narrow violence repertoires results in a low scale of violence.