In a NY Times editorial last week titled Counting Votes: Kremlin Style, the editors referenced the recent mayoral elections in Sochi, Russia, where the ruling United Russia party’s candidate won the election in the first round with 77%. (As an aside, one may wonder why the NY Times editorial page was discussing a Russian mayoral election. The simple answer is that in Russia national elections are no longer competitive and governors are appointed by the president, so you really have to get to the mayoral level to find anything remotely interesting going on; indeed, the ruling party actually a lost a mayoral election recently in far Northern city of Murmansk). Sochi is going to be the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, making the Kremlin particularly interested in the winner of this election. And as expected, there were lots of shenanigans involved in the Sochi elections, nicely laid out in a post on Radio Free Liberty’s Russia Blog The Power Vertical.
All of which led to the following question posed by the NY Times:
Why not all of the vote, as in Soviet times? Or a clear but less suspicious victory, like 55 percent?
A potential answer is that one legacy of the “Colored Revolutions” that swept through the post-communist region in the middle of this decade has been a realization that the time to falsify election results is before election day, and that relying on last minute manipulations of results is potentially not as reliable a means for holding on to power as was previously thought. (I had actually suggested that exactly this lesson could be learned by autocrats in the region in an article in _Perspectives on Politics_ a couple of years ago. For work on this topic outside of the post-communist region, see Nahomi Ichino’s work on pre-election fraud in Ghana.)
As it turns out, however, Alberto Simpser has a new paper on exactly this topic of the size of electoral margins and electoral fraud, entitled Cheating Big: On the Logic of Electoral Corruption in Developing Countries. The abstract reads:
Why do politicians manipulate elections excessively? The conventional wisdom associates electoral manipulation with close elections and small margins of victory. In fact, however, many manipulated elections are won by overwhelming margins of victory, and some elections are manipulated even though the result is scarcely in doubt. I present a theory about the incentives that shape electoral manipulation under conditions that often characterize developing countries. The central idea is that in such settings, electoral manipulation, in addition to directly affecting vote totals, can influence expectations and consequently impact patterns of political participation. This simple idea goes a long way toward explaining observed patterns: When large-scale manipulation can help to deter opponents in the future, politicians may purposefully use it beyond the point necessary for victory. Evidence from a variety of regions and time periods suggests that large-scale manipulation and overwhelming margins of victory have often had such an effect.
Any other research on this topic out there?