Why do governments manipulate elections at varying levels? This paper argues that variation in electoral manipulation can in part be explained by the fundamental trade-off between an incumbent's desire to signal his popularity and his risk of losing elections. Incumbents with a secure office do not need to convince the opposition of their wide support and avoid electoral risks by manipulating elections. Insecure incumbents, however, want to generate a strong signal of their popularity and adopt a riskier strategy of electoral uncertainty. Measuring office insecurity through the incidence of economic crises, coup threats, and protests, I document robust evidence supporting this proposition in a panel of autocracies and transitional democracies using a variety of measures and statistical designs. Politically insecure incumbents are more likely to hold elections, to tolerate electoral competition, and ultimately to lose in the very competition they permit.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science