Inken von Borzyskowski | 2019

The Risks of Election Observation: International Condemnation and Post-Election Violence

in: International Studies Quarterly, 63:3, 654–667

Research on international election observation shows that observation reduces fraud, encourages participation, and boosts confidence in the election. However, this conventional account misses the negative, violence-inducing potential of observer criticism. This is the first study examining how observer criticism influences post-election violence. Democracy depends on the loser’s consent, and the willingness of election losers to be governed by the winners can be influenced by observer criticism.

When reputable observers criticize the credibility of an election, they can encourage losers to challenge the result. Observer criticism strengthens the electoral loser by legitimizing a challenge and serving as a focal point for mobilization. Using data on post-election violence in thirty-eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990, I show that internationally condemned elections are more likely to turn violent than not-condemned elections. These results are robust to various control variables (including observer presence and election fraud) and accounting for potential selection, spuriousness, endogeneity, and omitted variables.

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