AJPS Author Summary: The Election Monitor’s Curse

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “The Election Monitor’s Curse”.AJPS Early View - The Election Monitor's Curse

Election monitoring has become a key instrument of democracy promotion in the developing world. In places where political institutions are too weak to ensure a transparent and credible election process, monitors are expected to deter election fraud and mitigate the risk of post-election violence. However, post-election protests and conflicts tend to occur more often when monitors do what they are supposed to do — identify and publicize election fraud. Does this mean that election monitoring fails at its most essential task?

We conducted a systematic theoretical analysis of this question that suggests a negative answer. We argue that election monitors face a fundamental curse: they can make all elections less fraudulent and more peaceful on average, but only by causing more violence in fraudulent elections. Thus, increased protests and violence after elections criticized by monitors indicates that election monitoring works exactly as we should expect. Fraud-exposure increases the risk of violence, but because of this increased risk of violence, fewer incumbents are willing to commit fraud, and, consequently, fewer election losers resort to post-election violence.

Due to this curse, election monitors can successfully promote a self-enforcing democracy only if they have very specifically aligned objectives. In contrast to conventional wisdom, our findings indicate that being indifferent towards post-election violence can make monitors more effective at preventing it. Moreover, monitors that are moderately biased against the government can be perceived as more credible than monitors who try to be politically impartial. Election monitors with well-aligned objectives will be able to commit to causing a few conflicts and thereby will prevent many, whereas monitors with mis-aligned objectives will not cause conflicts, but will also not prevent them.

About the Authors: Zhaotian Luo is a Graduate Student at New York University and Arturas Rozenas is Assistant Professor of Politics at New York University. Their article “The Election Monitor’s Curse” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.