ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Democracies and Elections

James Lutz
Purdue University
Brenda Lutz
Indiana University
James Lutz
Purdue University
Open Panel

Abstract

Fairly contested elections are frequently considered to be a prime indicator of the existence of an open democratic system, especially when such elections provide opportunities for a change of political leadership. Yet, somewhat counter-intuitively, elections in more open democratic societies can also lead to an increase in political violence when groups focus on the possible change in power, and they seek to enhance the prospects of (a) staying in power, or (b) achieving power through victory in an election. Most elections in open political systems, of course, are not accompanied by organized or systematic violence designed to achieve political objectives. New democracies, such as France after the Revolution or Iraq currently, may face significant violence surrounding elections. There are also cases where reasonably well-established open political societies have faced problems. A number of modern and ancient examples will be analyzed, including some open, quasi-democratic systems where elections were very important. The cases include the Late Republic in Rome, the Italian city states in the late Middle Ages, the activities of the Know Nothing Party in the United States prior to the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War, the various fascist groups in Europe battling the left after World War I, Nigeria in the early days of its independence, elections in Israel, and the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An analysis of these cases can provide insights into what have been the factors that separate these situations from the more routine functioning of democratic systems. In addition, has violence during elections been related to the openness of the political system or has it been a reflection of deeper-seated problems in the societies in questions? In essence, has political openness and elections really facilitated violence (and under what circumstances) or have they only appeared to do so?