Explaining and Mitigating Electoral Violence

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Political Economy

Abstract

Elections are a means of adjudicating political differences through peaceful, fair, democratic mechanisms. When elections are beset by violence, these aims are compromised and political crises often result. Despite the undisputed importance of understanding electoral violence, there has been only a limited body of systematic comparative research on this topic. If scholars and practitioners are to gain insight into the dynamics of electoral violence and develop superior strategies for deterring it, better data and more sophisticated theories are required.

The aim of this project is to develop conceptual, methodological and practical tools to facilitate an enhanced understanding of electoral violence and the behavioural interventions best suited to preventing it, with a view to sustaining fair and vibrant societies. The project will involve the construction of two databases of electoral violence and will make these data available to those engaged in electoral assistance, electoral administration and electoral observation as well as academic and other researchers. The project will also use the resulting data to develop and test a series of theoretically-driven propositions about the causes of electoral violence and to assess a range of interventions designed to prevent violent behaviours. Finally, the project will generate an online electoral violence early warning tool that can be used to provide relevant information about current electoral risks.

The project will be of considerable use both to academic students of election and conflict and to practitioners in the fields of contentious politics, electoral assistance, electoral observation, electoral administration, human rights, international relations, criminology and development studies. Electoral violence is frequently an aspect of contentious politics. Though contentious politics can play an important role in the democratic process, it raises problems for democracy both when it generates violence and when it disrupts key phases of the electoral cycle. Given the centrality of both contentious politics and elections to our understanding of contemporary political processes, this study promises to yield considerable benefits to a wide range of academic fields.

In addition to scholars, many actors with a stake in peaceful elections urgently require superior means of averting disruptive forms of violence that threaten political stability, state-building and development. Since the violent interlude that followed the Kenyan elections of 2007, there has been an increased focus on the topic of electoral violence and a heightened sense of urgency in the international community's search for remedies, as exemplified by the 2012 final report of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, chaired by Kofi Annan. One of the key recommendations of this report was 'to develop institutions, processes, and networks that deter election-related violence and, should deterrence fail, hold perpetrators accountable'. The proposed research is intended to make a substantial contribution towards this aim, which has become all the more urgent following the recent increase in violent behaviours in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Finally, the project will innovate methodologically by integrating 'big data' retrieval methods into political science. Political scientists have to date made scant use of the possibilities represented by current data retrieval techniques; by enabling collaboration between political scientists and computer scientists, this project will facilitate the collection of a dataset of unprecedented size in the study of electoral violence, and it will allow the researchers to tap types of online data that have not heretofore been harnessed to study this phenomenon.

Planned Impact

The impact of this research will be conceptual, technical and methodological. The research will contribute to the understanding of electoral violence by policy-makers and practitioners; it will also focus attention on the problem of electoral violence so that its prevention can become a higher priority on the international agenda. By developing new measures of electoral violence, the research will enable the impact of preventative policies and programmes to be tracked from election to election. The analysis and evaluation of commonly-used violence mitigation strategies will influence their future design. The research will also contribute to methodological innovation by introducing 'big data' methods to the study of elections.

This research is focused around the needs of a clearly-defined group of practitioner organisations with a stake in preventing electoral violence, including Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), protective forces, and international electoral assistance and conflict resolution providers such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International IDEA, the Council of Europe (CofE), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Commission, the Department for International Development (DfID) and and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

These stakeholders will benefit from the research in three ways: 1) through the development of a conceptual approach to profiling and gauging the intensity of electoral violence that can feed directly into their own project designs; 2) through the evaluation of the strategies they use; and 3) through the use of project datasets and research findings for their own purposes.

Practical collaboration between the investigators and user groups was at the origin of this project, which was conceived in response to identified problems faced by users in the field. The relevant groups will be consulted on the design of the data collection activities and they will be asked to help identify and provide relevant qualitative data on electoral assistance initiatives. Draft project outputs will be sent to selected members of these groups for comment.

There will be virtual collaboration via a dedicated web-based message board and blog to which user groups will be invited to contribute. There will also be active engagement of these groups in the project's research via the Steering Group. In addition, three user workshops will focus attention on project design and findings and will an avenue for developing collaborative links.

In order to assure wide involvement in the research and its use, several communications strategies will be employed. The interactive project website will be one of the principal tools through which project data and research updates and results will be disseminated. In addition to the academic outputs, there will be a series of papers drafted specially for non-academic publications. The researchers will also actively seek opportunities to place articles in national and international media. An end-of-project workshop will bring together approximately two dozen project stakeholders and beneficiaries and communicate the research findings to them.

Finally, methodological innovation will be achieved through the further development of the University of Glasgow's unique Terrier approach to data retrieval, which will be employed to generate a database of incidents of electoral violence in approximately three dozen elections across the world. The methodological innovations resulting from this project will be showcased via presentations and publications and specialist fora.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/L016435/1 01/04/2015 31/08/2016 £478,810
ES/L016435/2 Transfer ES/L016435/1 01/09/2016 31/03/2018 £236,153
 
Description The research has generated significant new knowledge about the causes of electoral violence , which the research has found to be driven by structural features of a society including corruption and exclusionary informal institutions, as well as by election-specific features including fraud, vote-buying and the quality of election-specific institutions. Fraud, vote-buying and electoral violence frequently coexist, and that violence is commonly employed as an adjunct to both fraud and vote-buying.

The research has generated new knowledge about the efficacy of electoral violence prevention interventions, a topic on which very little comparative academic research had previously been undertaken. Assistance to electoral management bodies has been found to be effective in deterring electoral violence; dialogue fora and mediation activities have been found to be effective at deterring violence by state actors.
Exploitation Route The research has enhanced our understanding of why and when electoral violence occurs and what can be done to prevent it. The study of electoral violence is an embryonic research field, and the foundation established by this project will be built on by other researchers in future.

The research has generated three standalone datasets which will be available for use by other researchers, plus an interactive online data repository.

The research has generated spin-off projects involving other users of the project findings:

• Following a pilot forecasting exercise in 2016 and 2017, the US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (BCSO) contracted project researchers Birch and Muchlinski to work in collaboration with colleagues at Creative Associates International to undertake a year-long electoral violence forecasting project, which began in October 2017.
• An Electoral Violence Affinity Group of practitioners working in the area of electoral violence was launched on 4 February 2016 and is an ongoing network.
• The PI has obtained a three-year grant from the British Academy together with Turkish scholar Prof Emre Toros to undertake a project on electoral violence in Turkey. This project, which started in November 2016 and is ongoing, draws Turkish politics specialists into the project research themes.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.electoralviolenceproject.com
 
Description • The project drew the attention of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP). An ESRC Impact Acceleration Account grant was obtained by the PI to fund two workshops held in Washington DC in 2015 and 2016 at the United States Institute for Peace which brought together practitioners to evaluate electoral violence prevention strategies. The findings of these workshops guided electoral violence prevention activities that the United States Institute for Peace deployed in Liberia in 2017. • On request, the PI reviewed electoral violence policy documents by the UNDP and the US State Department. • The PI met colleagues from the US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (BCSO) who invited the team to undertake electoral violence forecasting. A pilot forecasting exercise was undertaken in 2016 and 2017 and the results were presented to the BCSO at the US State Department. The BCSO then contracted project researchers Birch and Muchlinski to work in collaboration with colleagues at Creative Associates International to undertake a year-long electoral violence forecasting project, which began in October 2017. • An Electoral Violence Affinity Group of practitioners working in the area of electoral violence was launched on 4 February 2016 and is an ongoing network.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
 
Description Reviewed US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stablizaton Operations 'Electoral Violence Assessment Framework'
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact Improved the electoral violence prevention policy of the US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.
 
Description Reviwed electoral violence policy paper for the United Nations Development Program
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact My review of this documented contributed to UNDP policy on electoral violence prevention.
 
Description Newton Advanced Fellowship
Amount £81,323 (GBP)
Funding ID AF160050 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2019
 
Description no scheme - consultancy contract
Amount $15,000 (USD)
Organisation United States Department of State 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2018
 
Title Countries at Risk of Electoral Violence dataset 
Description The dataset of Countries at Risk of Electoral Violence (CREV) provides detailed dyadic information on electoral violence in 101 countries between1995 and 2013. For an election to be deemed "at risk" of electoral violence, two criteria have to be met. The country in which the election has taken place must not have been a fully consolidated democracy (defined as having a Polity IV (Marshall, Gurr and Jaggers 2016) score of 10) throughout the entire time period covered by the data, and it must have sufficient media coverage (defined as an average of at least 365 reported events per year in the ICEWS dataset (see below for details)). The dataset of Countries at Risk of Electoral Violence follows the National Elections across Democracy and Autocracy (NELDA) election classification (Hyde and Marinov 2012; 2014). Elections in CREV are for national-level legislative and executive contests only, local and regional elections are excluded, as are referendums and constituent assembly elections. Electoral violence is measured in a ten-month window around each election. We code violence beginning six months before the election, three months after the election, and the month of the election. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact N/A 
URL http://www.electoralviolenceproject.com
 
Title Electoral Violence Incident dataset 
Description Electoral violence is a common theme in developing countries all around the world where they destabilize basic standards for democratic elections. Violence against candidates, voters, journalists and election officials can reduce voters' choices and suppress the vote. Nowadays, social media platforms such as Twitter are popular as a medium for reporting and discussing current news and events, including political events. In particular, by comparing Twitter and newswire for breaking news, Petrovic et al. found that Twitter leads newswire in reporting political events. Such a conclusion indicates that Twitter is useful for monitoring and studying political events, including elections. Therefore, we collect Twitter posts that are topically related to three selected elections: the 2015 Venezuela parliamentary election, 2016 Philippines general election and 2016 Ghana general election. Using human annotators and trained classifiers, we built two datasets in tweet-level and incident-level. Tweet-level dataset is consist of annotated tweets, however the incident-level dataset contains grouped tweets and the reported incident details by each group of tweets. Our datasets enable further electoral violence studies based on social media data, which can provide valuable insights on explaining and mitigating electoral violence. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Four papers have been written by the researchers in connection with this dataset: (1) Muchlinski, David, Xiao Yang, Sarah Birch, Craig Macdonald and Iadh Ounis. 2017. "A Deep Learning Classification Algorithm for the Generation of Electoral Violence Event Data Mined from Twitter." (2) Xiao Yang, Xiao, Richard McCreadie, Craig Macdonald and Iadh Ounis. 2017. 'Transfer Learning for Multi-Language Twitter Election Classification'. ASONAM '17, July 31-August 03, 2017, Sydney, Australia, http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/3110025.3110059; (3) X. Yang, I Ounis, and C Macdonald, 2016, 'Monitoring Electoral Violence through Social Media: A Machine Learning Approach'. In: International Conference on Computational Social Science, Evanston, IL, USA, 24-26 Jun 2016, http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/120312/; (4) X. Yang, C. Macdonald and I. Ounis, 2016, 'Using Word Embeddings in Twitter Election Classification'. In: Neu-IR: The SIGIR 2016 Workshop on Neural Information Retrieval, Pisa, Italy, 21 July 2016, http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/120313/7/120313.pdf; also Information Retrieval Journal forthcoming 2018. 
 
Title Electoral Violence Prevention Intervention Dataset 
Description This dataset includes data on electoral violence interventions undertaken by the United National Development Program between 2003 and 2015 inclusive. Approximately 100 elections are coded according to intervention type. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The dataset was used in a paper recentyl published by the researchers: Sarah Birch and David Muchlinksi. 2018. "Electoral Violence Prevention: What Works?", Democratization 25(3), pp. 385-403, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2017.1365841. 
URL http://www.electoralviolenceproject.com
 
Title Electoral Violence Prevention Practice Database 
Description The Electoral Violence Prevention Intervention database (http://preventelectoralviolence.org) is a qualitative database that provides an online resource for practitioners in the field of electoral violence prevention who can search by prevention intervention type, implementing organisation and country. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The database has only just been published so it has not yet had any measurable impact. 
URL http://preventelectoralviolence.org
 
Description EVALUATIVE RESEARCH WORKSHOPS: ELECTION VIOLENCE PREVENTION 
Organisation United States Institute for Peace
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Our team collaborated with the United States Institute for Peace to run two practitioner-oriented impact workshops on evaluating electoral violence prevention strategies.
Collaborator Contribution The United States Institute for Peace collaborated with our team to run two practitioner-oriented impact workshops on evaluating electoral violence prevention strategies.
Impact These workshops developed a strategy for assessing the impact of electoral violence prevention activities that fed into electoral violence prevention research undertaken by the United States Institute for Peace in Liberia in 2017. These workshops also led to an invitation to the PI by the United Nations Development Program to review their electoral violence policy document. These workshops also introduced the PI to staff at the US State Department Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations which subsequently commissioned electoral violence forecasting work from the project team.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Electoral violence forecasting for the US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations 
Organisation United States Department of State
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The PI met colleagues from the US State Department Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (BCSO) who invited the team to undertake electoral violence forecasting. A pilot forecasting exercise, based on a machine-learning methodology for electoral violence forecasting developed as part of the project, was undertaken in 2016 and 2017 and the results were presented to the BCSO at the US State Department. The BCSO subsequently contracted project researchers Birch and Muchlinski to work in collaboration with colleagues at Creative Associates International to carry out a year-long electoral violence forecasting project, which began in October 2017.
Collaborator Contribution The BCSO provided feedback on the pilot project and set the parameters for the larger project. They also paid for the larger project as part of a separate grant.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2016
 
Description Briefing paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Sarah Birch, David Muchlinski, and Jeff Fischer, 2016, 'Electoral Mediation to Prevent and Mitigate Electoral Violence' Prepared for the 2016 Oslo Forum of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

This was a briefing paper prepared, on request, for this event. We did not attend or present in person.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Electoral Violence Affinity Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An Electoral Violence Affinity Group of practitioners working in the area of electoral violence was launched in Washington DC on 4 February 2016 and is an ongoing network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description Electoral Violence Prevention Practice Database 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Electoral Violence Prevention Intervention database (http://preventelectoralviolence.org) is a qualitative database that provides an online resource for practitioners in the field of electoral violence prevention who can search by prevention intervention type, implementing organisation and country.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://preventelectoralviolence.org
 
Description International IDEA workshop on the Timing and Sequencing of Transitional Elections 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I took part in this workshop, which was organised by International IDEA. This led to discussions about electoral violence prevention in transitional settings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description User Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This user workshop, held in March 2017 at King's College London, brought together the project team, project steering group and electoral violence prevention practitioners from the Department for International Development, the United Nations Development Program, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to discuss project research findings to date.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Website and blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project website and blog launched 25 November 2015, and subsequently populated: www.electoralviolenceproject.com; 14,335 pageviews as at 4 March 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018
URL http://www.electoralviolenceproject.com
 
Description electoral violence forecasting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Electoral violence forecasting commissioned by the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilisation Operations of the US State Department
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018