Why Would Domestic Election Observers Endorse Unfree Elections?

Bachelor Thesis, 2016

34 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction – A First Glance at Election Observation

2 The Current Stage of Research – Democratization, Election Observation and the Endorsement of Unfree Elections
2.1 Elections, Democracy and Democratization
2.2 Domestic and International Election Observation
2.3 Endorsing Elections Despite Flaws: Two Schools

3 Theory and Hypotheses – The Influence of Pre-Election Violence and Improvement

4 Operationalisation and Measurement

5 Findings and Discussion – Empirical Evidence
5.1 Regression Diagnostics
5.2 Regression Output
5.3 Robustness Check
5.4 Discussion

6 Conclusion

7 Appendix

8 Bibliography

1 Introduction – A First Glance at Election Observation

In the late 1990’s, Thomas Carothers (1997, 30) stated that “election observation will continue to be an important part of international politics for at least the next five to ten years”, which has proven to be true. Nowadays, election monitoring is practiced by many organizations around the globe (Kelley 2009), supervising especiallyelections in democratizing countries and semi-authoritarian regimes (Bjornlund 2004).Even though missions send by international organizations are the centre of attention (Carothers 1997; Kelley 2009; Hyde 2007; Hyde/Marinov 2012a), also the influence of domestic monitors has grown(Bjornlund 2004). International observers alone are often not enough to generate confidence in the electoral process, therefore, observation by domestic civic organizations or networks of nongovernmental organizations is experiencing increased popularity (Bjornlund 2004).

For both international and domestic monitors, the key to successis credibility (Nevitte/ Canton 1997). To achieve this credibility, observers have to be nonpartisan and objective – assessments should be based exclusively on the quality of an election. A violation of this could have a devastating effect on democratization in the monitored country: if observers accept unfree elections, they may legitimize undemocratic regimes (Kelley 2010).Unfortunately, various studies (Carothers 1997; Kelley 2009; Kelley 2011) have shown that “the notion of neutral election observers is a myth” (Kelley 2010, 168). Although these studies have only focused on international observation, we can assume the same for domestic monitors: they are usually citizens of the election holding country and therefore directly influenced by the election outcome, which makes them unlikely to be completely objective (Nevitte/Canton 1997).

An evaluation of 51domestic observer missionsworldwide supports this notion (graph 1). Comparing the freedom of elections[1] to levels of endorsement stated in the observers’ reports and statements[2] Iwould expect that unfree elections are not endorsed if domestic observers wereneutral; however; this is not the case.Even though we can see in the mean comparison that free elections are more often accepted, also unfree ones are sometimes. Out of the 22 unfree elections in the sample, domestic election observers didnot verify 72.73% of the cases but did so in 27.27%.This number is quite high given the fact that neutral observers should not endorse unfree elections at all (Kelley 2011).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Graph 1: Endorsement of Elections,

Mean Comparison for Free and Unfree Elections

It is puzzling that domestic monitorsaccept fraudulent elections because itaffects their credibility and reduces their influence as they may be viewed as unreliable (Kelley 2011).For international observers, various reasons for this phenomenon have been identified (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011) but domestic observers have received little attention so far. Yet, domestic organizations are different from international ones in terms of structure and environment, which raises the question to what extent reasons for endorsement can be similar. Therefore, it is necessaryto take a deeper look at local observers in order to fill a gap in the literature. Moreover, a better understanding is needed in order to improve domestic monitoring, the quality of democracy promotion, and to avoid the unwanted effect of stabilizing non-democratic regimes. Democratization must come from the inside in order to be successful (Pevehouse 2002) and domestic observers may give the crucial incentive (Bjornlund 2004); however, only credible monitors can make a difference (Kelley 2011).Therefore, my research question will be the following: why would domestic election observers endorse unfree elections?

In order to answer this question, I will start with reviewing the literature. In a second step, I will develop my theory and hypotheses. Building on the studies of Judith Kelley (2009; 2010; 2011), I will argue that domestic observers are more likely to accept unfree elections if pre-election violence occurs and improvement takes place. The analysis is based on local observer reports from theGNDEM (GNDEM 2016), the NELDA 4.0dataset (Hyde/Marinov 2012b), the V-dem6.0 dataset (Coppedge et al. 2016a), the Political Terror Scale (Gibney et. al 2015) and Freedom House (Freedom House2016b). I will use logistic regression to test my hypotheses; my findings are that I cannot reject my null-hypotheses. The conclusion will summarize my argument and findings,and provide an outlook on future research. Notably, I will use the terms monitoring and observation interchangeable in this paper.

2 The Current Stage of Research – Democratization, Election Observation and the Endorsement of Unfree Elections

The current stage of research on election observation produces a mixed picture. On the one hand, election observation can contribute to democratization (Carothers 1997;Hyde 2007; Boerzel et.al 2013). On the other hand, monitors are biased when it comes to the evaluation of elections (Carothers 1997; Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011). While the effect of election observation is a highly researched field (Bjornlund 2004; Beaulieu/Hyde 2008, Hyde/Marinov 2012a, Ichino/Schuendeln 2012; Daxecker 2013), only a small number of studies havepaid attention to the determinants of monitors’ assessments (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011). This paper will focus on the latterasprevious studies have primarily dealt with international observers and further research is needed. In order to do so, I will look at the relationship between elections and democratization, then shifting the focus on election observation and factors influencing monitors’ assessment. I will compare two schools. The first one (Nevitte/Canton 1997; Kamata 2002; Makulilo 2011; Boerzel et al. 2013) argues that assessments are mainly influenced by electoral norms and the structure ofobserver missions. The second one focuses on thenature of elections, organizational structureand the organization’s environment (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011). I will show that the second approachis better to explain the acceptance of unfree elections because allocation of resources is a bad proxy for credibility and norms have become relatively similar among organizations over the last years.

2.1 Elections, Democracy and Democratization

It is without controversy that free and fair elections are fundamentalto democracy (Dahl 1956; Schumpeter 1976); “elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non” (Huntington 1993, 9). Moreover, elections are believed to be the “key generator over time” of democratization (Carothers 2002, 8). However, it has often been criticized that democracy needs more than free and fair elections, and that democracy promotion should not exclusively focus on polls (Bjornlund 2004). Nonetheless,there has been an increase in election monitoring over the past years as it is seen as a usefultool to move towards democracy (Ayanleye 2013).

2.2Domestic and International Election Observation

Election observation can be defined as “the purposeful gathering of information about an electoral process and public assessment of that process against universal standards for democratic elections by responsible foreign or international organizations committed to neutrality and to the democratic process” (Bjornlund 2004, 40).Being first an international phenomenon, it started to take over the domestic sphere when the domestic organization National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) recorded remarkable success during the Philippines’ 1986 election by exposing fraud (Bjornlund 2004). Since then, monitoring elections has “grown into a global norm” (Bjornlund 2004, 210). Yet, it is contested whether monitors have a positive effect on the observed country and it is highly dependent on the observed cases and characteristics of missions. Observers can detect fraud or even reduce it because governments do not want to be caught cheating (Carothers 1997; Hyde 2007) and can stabilize electionsby increasing confidence in the electoral process (Carothers 1997). Moreover, they may catalyse democratic change (Bjornlund 2004) and lead to the development of electionstandards (Elklit/Svensson 1997) because they are able to hold governments accountable (Kelley 2011). One the other hand, many groups are amateurish (Carothers 1997). Moreover, election observers may induce a shift in violence to the pre-election period as leaders know that this has less effect on the assessments (Daxecker 2013). Finally, different observer missions arrive at diverging conclusions (Carothers 1997; Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010), which harms their reputation and reduces theireffectiveness(Kelley 2011).

Overall, effects and performances of election observers are a highly researched field, while less attention has been paid to the determinants of monitors’ assessments.

2.3Endorsing Elections Despite Flaws: Two Schools

As it has to be doubted that election observers are neutral, several studies have focused on explaining which factors influencemonitors’ assessments (Carothers 1997; Nevitte/

Canton 1997; Bjornlund 2004; Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011; Makulilo 2011;

Boerzel et. al. 2013). One possible answer to my research question is provided by studies focusing on different standards and structure of observer missions. Organizations are said to have varying electoral norms (Boerzel et. al. 2013), which lead to different conclusions as characteristics of elections are weighted differently (Elklit/ Svensson 1997). This is per se right and can account for differences, however, it fails to explain why anunfree election should be classified as successful. If the whole process is flawed, it does not matter how elements are weighted because violations of democratic standards can be found in all. Moreover, these findings are contested as there has been a trend towards developing universal standards through the adoption of declarations on the conduct of election monitoring (Bjornlund 2004; Kelley 2010). As organizations nowadays largely agree on what is said to be free and fair, differences should be minimal, however, the empirical evidence shows contradictions in about 22% of elections (Kelley 2009, 766).

Another argument brought by this school are differences in the length of missions and the size of groups (Kamata 2002); it is assumed that resource constraints lead to endorsement because of insufficient access to information (Kelley 2011). Longer and larger missions are said to have an advantage because they are able to observe the whole process while smaller and shorter missions are not gathering enough data (Makulilo 2011). Moreover, better funding and training are associated with more credible assessments because information failures are reduced(Nevitte/Canton 1997). Yet, this explanation is ambiguous because endorsement of unfree elections is rather a systematic course of action than caused by missing information (Kelley 2009); “it does not seem that resource constraints play a big role in whether monitors endorse elections” (Kelley 2011, 74). Larger missions may allow to gather more data but this does not make observers and their assessments more honest and fair (Makulilo 2011).Therefore, allocation of resources is no good proxy for credibility because fair judgements are dependent on many more factors such as personal and organizational interests (Makulilo 2011).

But if it is not due to differences in the election observer missions, what may then cause the endorsement of unfreeelections? A second school tries to answer thisquestion by focusing on preferences,politics and organizational structures (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011). Monitors are more likely to endorse elections with administrative problems than with legal ones: they view problems with administrative issues as less damaging to the electoral process (Kelley 2011).Moreover, problems on election day are weighted more heavily; the election day itself is seen as the most important part of the elections (Kelley 2009). So to speak, if an unfree election suffers less from legal problems and problems on election day than administrative problems and problems in the pre-election period, it is more likely to be endorsed. Furthermore, monitors are more likely to accept elections the less irregularities, cheating and election day violence (Kelley 2011). Yet, this cannot really account for the acceptance of unfree elections because those usually suffer all from cheating, irregularities or election day violence.

A further explanation for the endorsement of unfree elections is special relationships between organizations and election holding countries (Kelley 2011). Elections in geopolitically important states and countries crucial to donors are more likely to be accepted even if they are flawed because states/donors have a political interest in those countries (Kelley 2010). Moreover, the nature of organizations influences endorsement: intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are less critical than nongovernmental ones (NGOs) while IGOs with non-democratic members are the least critical (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2011). NGOs are more independent, and democracies are stricter when it comes to the violation of democratic norms (Kelley 2010). Therefore, IGOs with less democratic members are more likely to endorse unfree elections than NGOs (Kelley 2010).

In addition, monitors are biased towards countries in which a certain progress took place (Kelley 2009; Kelley 2010; Kelley 2011). This is caused by the fact that election observers aim at promoting democracy and hope that praising improvements will lead to future achievements (Kelley 2009).Thus, even if an election is unfree but better compared to the last one, observers may accept it (Kelley 2011).

Finally, assessments are influenced by the level of pre-election violence. Judith Kelley (2009; 2010; 2011) found out that pre-election violence increases the likelihood of endorsement as monitors are afraid that criticism may result in post-election violence.Even though this finding is generally accepted, pre-election violence often goes together with irregularities and thus, it would not be surprising if it had a negative effect on endorsement (Kelley 2011).

Summing up, the second school is suited best to answer my research question as it canaccount for endorsing unfree elections while the first school only explains minor differences in reports. According to my research, the findings of this second school have not been contested, yet, one weakness is that ithas only been looked at international monitors so far; novel is the idea to look at domestic ones. Even though some studies have dealt with local monitors (Nevitte/Canton 1997; Bjornlund 2004; Ichino/Schuendeln 2012), current studies on factors influencing domestic observers’ assessments are missing. My research therefrom helps to fill a gap in the existing literature by testing an established theory about international monitoring on local observers and contributes to a better understanding of the behaviour of domestic actors.

3 Theory and Hypotheses – The Influence of Pre-Election Violence and Improvement

Before starting with the development of my theory, I need to define some key concepts and the population of interest. Endorsement of an unfree election means that an election is qualified as ‘successful’, ‘free and fair’, ‘acceptable’or ‘credible’ by election observers despite fundamental flaws (Kelley 2010).A regime is considered as autocratic if the executive and/or legislature are not elected in free and competitive elections (Svolik 2012) and as democratic if “fair, honest and periodic elections”under free conditions take place (Huntington 1993, 7). Hybrid regimes fall between those extremes and have characteristics of both autocracy and democracy (Levitsky/Way 2010).

The population of interest for this study are elections in transitional and new democracies, hybrid regimes and electoral autocracies (Bjornlund 2004; Schedler 2010). Elections in fully developed democracies are usually not observed because they are free and fair by definition (Huntington 1993; Bjornlund 2004) and traditional autocratic regimes do not allow monitoring or do not hold elections (Bjornlund 2004; Levitsky/Way 2010).

In the literature review, I have identified factors which decrease and increase the probability of endorsement based on Judith Kelley’s findings (2009;2010; 2011), which will be fundamental for the following theoretical argument. Those factors can be organized in two categories: environment of the organizations and nature of the elections. While determinants caused by the nature of the election may be applicable to domestic monitors, factors caused by the organizational environment are not because domestic and international organizations vary in terms of structure and membership (Nevitte/Canton 1997); this assumption is fundamental for this research. I will argue that domestic election observers are interested in stability and use reports to encourage further democratization. Therefore, they may endorse elections despite fundamental flaws if pre-election violence occurred and improvement took place to avoid post-election violence and to send positive signals.

As we can see in table 1 on the next page, international monitoring organizations usually consist of member states with different interests and often varying regime types; they are transnational actors and observe elections in different countries (Kelley 2011).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 1: Characteristics of Monitoring Organizations, Own Illustration based on Bjornlund (2004), Kelley (2011), and Nevitte/Canton (1997)

In contrast, local observers are citizens of the election holding country that join domestic NGOs or coalitions of those to monitor elections and to participate in politics (Nevitte/Canton 1997; Bjornlund 2004). As a result, domestic monitors are not influenced by the geopolitical importance of states and nature of the organization; these ‘special relationship’ and ‘IGO and NGO’ biases (Kelley 2011) are restricted to international organizations only. Domestic observers cannot be biased towards different countries as they only observe elections in their own and they should be equally critical because type of the organization and members are the same (Nevitte/Canton 1997).

However, one may argue that domestic observers are dependent on external funding (Nevitte/Canton 1997), so they endorse elections if it is in the donors’ interest(Makulilo 2011). Yet, those funds are mainly from democratic countries or organizations, which have an increased interest in fair judgements (Kelley 2011), as the example of the Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee (TEMCO) shows. In 1995, the TEMCO received money from five democratic states (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands) and one democratic institution, the European Commission. Moreover,it was clearly stated that the money was not attached to any conditions despite proper use (Makulilo 2011). In addition, many organizations are funded by NGOs, which are more impartial than IGOs (Kelley 2011). Moreover, some groups as NAMFREL refuse outside funding (Bjornlund 2004). Therefore, it has to be doubted that domestic organizations endorse elections simply because of donors’ interests.

Nonetheless, some of Judith Kelley’s (2009; 2011) arguments can be applied to domestic observers too.My first argument is that domestic election observers are as international ones interested in stability (Bjornlund 2004; Kelley 2011) and are thereby more likely to endorse elections if pre-election violence took place. Pre-election violence refers to violent actions by both opposition and regime in the period leading up to theelection,which aredirectly related to the electoral process (Daxecker 2013).I assume that both international and domestic monitors are interested indownplaying criticism in order to establish or retain peace, and to avoid violence because theydo not want to be associated with destabilizing countries (Kelley 2011).Pre-election violence can be seen as a demonstration of the capacity for violence, and is thus associated with higher levels of post-election violence, which would risk the stability of the election holding country (Kelley 2011). Of course, domestic monitors want to avoid this risk of post-election violence; for this, they have to weigh threats from the opposition and the ruling elite. Yet, revolts and post-election conflicts caused by the opposition are less likely than violent behaviour of the incumbent (Kelley 2009); he has a better access to resources, which increases his willingness to use violence. Therefore, I assume that observers perceive the incumbent as ‘stronger’ than the opposition, especially because he dominates pre-election violence in most cases (Kelley 2009). Thus, local monitors assume that it is more damaging to critique the incumbent than to denounce results; they view pleasing the incumbent as a better way to keep stability because of his higher potential to use violence (Kelley 2009).This reasons to accept elections if pre-election violence took place is similar for both international and domestic observers.

In addition, domestic observershave a further reason to downplay criticism, which is different to international monitors: they do not want to spur violence through their evaluation because they “literally live with the election outcome for a long time” (Nevitte/Canton 1997, 50).In contrast to international observers, who leave countries shortly after elections, domestic observers will stay and go back to their everyday life (Bjornlund 2004). In cases of post-election violence caused by critical assessments, they are likely to become targets of this violence: if monitors denounce results and reduce the legitimacy of the incumbent, he is more willed to use violence against them; they may get punished for their sincerity. I assume that election observers are rational actors; they calculate costs and benefits of their actions and make decision based on this calculation (Scott 2000). Moreover, they have a certain set of preferences, which forms their goals and actions (Scott 2000). Local monitors want to detect electoral misconduct, promote democracy and strive for further liberalization (Nevitte/Canton 1997) but they do not want to risk their own welfare. As rational actors will choose the option with the greatest satisfaction (Coleman 1973), they will avoid things for which they get punished that is criticism, and do those that make them benefit that is favourable assessments (Homans 1961). Therefore, the combination of threats to personal wellbeing and interest in stability is likely to lead to greater endorsement of unfree elections; observers will avoid criticism if they are afraid to spur post-election violence that is when pre-election violence took place. So did domestic monitors endorse the 1997 elections in Albaniaand the 2009 election in Lebanon despite fundamental flaws. In both, pre-election violence took place (Hyde/Marinov 2012b). This leads to my first hypothesis:

H1:Domestic observers are more likely to accept unfree elections if pre-election violence occurs.

One may argue that this hypothesis is not applicable to my whole population because violence does not occur in transitional and new democracies; democracies reduce repression and violence because the institutions associated with a democratic state do not comply with such behaviour (Davenport 2007). Moreover, democratic elections are by definition free and fair, thus violence should be absent (Huntington 1993). However, this does not mean that all democracies are nonviolent as especially transitional and new democracies still develop democratic institutions. Moreover, those young governments often struggle from a lack of legitimacy and very low levels of public confidence in their institutions and may therefore rely on violence(Carothers 2002).Although Tunisia transitioned successful to democracy and held free elections in 2011, pre-election violence still occurred (Stepan 2012).Moreover, elections in Burundi’s young democracy in 2015 were characterized by cases of killings and intimidation (OHCHR 2015).Finally,it has been shown that pre-election violence is employed when incumbents are concerned about losing, which is more likely if electoral competition increases (Collier/Vicente 2012). Thus, pre-election violence is likely to occur in new and transitional democracies as well and this hypothesis is applicable to my whole population.

In addition, Judith Kelley (2009; 2010; 2011) argues that international monitors show ‘progress biases’ because they may overpraise partial progress in order to stabilize the hitherto existing achievements; they face a dilemma between rewarding improvement and criticizing electoral shortfalls. For example,international observers reported favourably on 78% of elections in new democracies while only 13% were critical (Bjornlund 2004, 47). I assume that this behaviour also applies to domestic monitors. Usually, domestic organizations exist for the sole purpose of election monitoring and therefore have an interest in democratization and democracy promotion (Bjornlund 2004). Thus, they have the same fundamental concern as international organizations to turn a blind eye to flaws if this could lead to future democracy.As said before, I assume that election monitors are rational actors. Following this logic, election observers will endorse unfree elections that showed improvement because they may get rewarded with further liberalization while they could get ‘punished’ for criticism by the regime through backsliding; “to deny elections a passing grade would […] risk provoking greater political closure” (Fish 2005, 50). As delegation is not meant to sanction the exercise of power but to prolong tenure in office (Schedler 2010), further liberalization is more likely to happen if the government views it as useful to sustain its rule. The regime will only give the ‘reward’ of liberalization if it gets ‘rewarded’ with legitimacy, which can be drawn from the acceptance of elections by domestic observers. Therefore, my second argument is that local monitors are more likely to accept an unfree election if it shows improvement.

Moreover, I assume that this effect iseven strongerfor domestic observers because their personal life is directly affected by the outcome while international monitors are relatively little affected by it (Nevitte/Canton 1997). Liberalization does not only provide chances for democratic development of the country but also chances for improved physical and material wellbeing of the local observers, for example through better protection of property rights (Sen 1999).


[1] I used the variable v2elfrfair from the V-dem 6.0 dataset

[2] I accessed statements and reports through theGlobal Network of Domestic Monitors (GNDEM)

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Why Would Domestic Election Observers Endorse Unfree Elections?
University of Mannheim  (School of Social Sciences)
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would, domestic, election, observers, endorse, unfree, elections
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Kathrin Baumann (Author), 2016, Why Would Domestic Election Observers Endorse Unfree Elections?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/337866


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