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This chapter zooms in on the behavior of a particular intervener: the United States of America. The United States is, as we show, the world's top election intervener. The combination of superpower status with Wilsonian messianism provides powerful incentives to shape democratic fortunes abroad. The United States, even when compared to all other liberal powers, is the actor most committed to free and fair elections around the world. The rise of international organizations, dedicated to election observation and other democratic practices, has increased American pressure for clean contests. In all, cases where the United States and other liberal powers have dominated elections, have seen less bias and more democracy than cases where illiberal powers dominate. Thus, both in terms of policy and in terms of outcomes, America's mission and dedication to free elections stands clear in the empirical record.
In this chapter, we introduce the bare-bones model of electoral interventions in elections. The theoretical argument we develop produces a rich variety of comparative statics. We amend many aspects of the conventional wisdom. A state which acts as a liberal hegemon in a foreign election does not always promote more democratic elections. Two liberal outsiders in conflict are better for democratic elections. Conflicts between liberal and illiberal powers do produce some of the worst outcomes as far as clean elections go.
In this chapter, we rely on our novel dataset to test the theoretical insights. We also provide the first systematic, unvarnished look at the practice and statecraft of election intervention. Our data paints a dramatic picture. More than half of all elections in the world feature external interventions. In three-quarters of contests, the candidates running disagree on policy in ways that are consequential to at least one foreign power. In about half of those cases, one foreign power (or a camp of powers) prefers one candidate to win and another foreign power (or camp of powers) has the opposite preference. This partisan polarization sets the stage for external interventions in polyarchy. We show that efforts to promote candidates and attempts to change the rules of the game go hand in hand. Geopolitics conditions interest in an election but not in the way anticipated by the literature. When polarization is low, geopolitics does not matter. When polarization is such that the foreign power favors the opposition, geopolitics dictates greater investment in democracy. It is only when the foreigners like the government to win that the conventional prediction of geopolitics diminishing commitment to democracy obtains.
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