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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Susan D. Hyde
Affiliation:
Yale University, susan.hyde@yale.edu.
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2007

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References

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23 Bremmer and Welt (fn. 20).

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25 Armenian politics are characterized by violence, which overshadowed the 2003 elections. Most notably, in 1999, the parliament was attacked by gunmen, and eight prominent politicians were assassinated. The 2003 presidential elections were the first to be held after the attack.

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33 Government-reported election results were made available online at http://www.elections.am by the Central Election Commission of Armenia.

34 Even if this information were inaccurately communicated to me, if observers were more likely to visit stations they believe to be problematic, as suggested by one reviewer, then this would dampen an observed effect of observers on fraud. For the reasons cited, however, this is an unlikely scenario.

35 Carothers (fn. 4); Geisler, Gisela, ”Fair? What Has Fairness Got to Do with It? Vagaries of Election Observations and Democratic Standards,” Journal of Modern African Studies 31 (December 1993CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

36 The same tests for the other candidates are available upon request. They do not change the conclusions drawn from these results.

37 Outside of the Yerevan region (where polling stations were equally likely to be visited in both rounds) polling stations that were visited in round 1 were twice as likely to be visited again in round 2.

38 Additional tests compare vote share for all candidates and show that the only candidate to perform better in unmonitored polling stations was Sargsian, who received only 0.04 percent more of the vote in unmonitored polling stations.

39 Demirchian vote share is used to make the comparison clearer. If there were systematic biases in the polling stations monitored in round 2, they should show as a statistically significant difference between these two groups. Comparisons using round 1 Kocharian vote share are available from the author, but for reasons that are likely related to polling-station accessibility, round 1-monitored polling stations are more likely to be monitored in round 2, thus making it unlikely that observed round 1 Kocharian vote share would be statistically independent of round 2 monitoring.

40 1 am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this be included as an alternative explana-tion.

41 In thefirstround, observers visited 42 percent of polling stations. The 5.8 percent average reduction in Kocharian vote share, reflected nationally, was 2.44 percent (aggregate observer effect = 42% * 5.8%).

42 Olken (fn. 26).

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