Causes and Consequences of Electoral Violence: Evidence from England and Wales 1832-1914

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs

Abstract

Electoral violence plagues the modern world, but it is not a new phenomenon. Violence and intimidation were a common part of early elections in many now established democracies. This project will use new detailed data to examine electoral violence in England and Wales from its peak after the Great Reform Act (1832) until it disappeared before the Great War (1914). Based on the exceptionally detailed historical records available for Britain (1832-1914), we will provide new answers to some of the most challenging questions about what leads to electoral violence, and about its effects. Our findings will be useful not just to historians but contemporary scholars of election violence and practitioners seeking to tackle this problem.

Most existing research focuses on modern day emerging democracies. So why study an historical case to learn about what drives electoral violence? First, electoral violence was successfully eliminated in Britain. This allows us to examine the factors that led to its demise, which is not possible in contemporary cases where electoral violence tends to persist. Second, we are able to look at a period of nearly one century and 20 general elections. In contrast to contemporary studies - which have time-spans of about twenty to thirty years - this enables us to disentangle short-, medium- and long-term trends in electoral violence. Finally, the available data on election violence and other variables of interest in England and Wales during this time period is exceptionally good, especially when compared to contemporary cases. This will allow us to implement cutting edge research designs by tracing a large number of individuals' voting histories over multiple elections and correlate this with incidents of violence, along with various background characteristics (e.g., age, education, income, employment etc.) to study the micro-dynamics of electoral violence and see how violence effects voting behaviour over time and across multiple elections.

Our project will also revise existing historical understandings of nineteenth century Britain. We will provide a new contextual account of election violence, providing a much more careful and geographically specific periodisation of election violence. We will address major historical debates about the adequacy of cultural explanations of election violence by examining whether such violence was primarily used strategically by politicians, or whether, as most contemporary historians have argued, that it was an unfortunate part of the carnival atmosphere of elections in the Victorian period.

This analysis will be made possible by creating a new data set on electoral violence in England and Wales for all 20 general elections between 1832 and 1914, based on newspaper archives, government and police records. We will link this information to (cleaned up versions) of existing political, economic, social, geographic, and non-election related violence databases including individual-level data from Rate and Poll books. We will also collect and analyse a wide range of qualitative evidence. Independent of our analysis of them, these linked quantitative and qualitative datasets will be a significant resource for other scholars. Taken together we will write a monograph which will provide a new historical account of English and Welsh election violence in the period based on more complete and systematic data. We will also write a series of articles which will address specific claims about election violence, looking at the perpetrators and targets, economic causes, the relationship to the rise of cohesive parties, and the short-, medium- and long- term consequences of election violence.

Our findings will be of interest to practitioners who seek to address contemporary election violence because we will make robust causal inferences about long-term effects in a case where the problem was solved, and over a period of nearly a century.

Planned Impact

There are two non-academic user communities who will benefit from outputs of this project: development practitioners specialising in political stability and democracy promotion; and the general British public.

Development practitioners will benefit because understanding the causes and consequences of electoral violence is fundamental to developing new and refining existing programs that aim to prevent electoral violence. Notwithstanding the obvious contextual differences, comparing past and contemporary electoral violence can provide new insights. Moreover, a better understanding of the causes and consequences of electoral violence will allow government agencies and non-governmental organizations to use their limited resources more efficiently, thereby maximizing their impact. In particular, the project promises to generate relevant findings in three areas. First and foremost, the fact that we study a historical case where electoral violence was successfully eradicated - in contrast with studies of contemporary cases - means that we can offer new evidence as to what factors are crucial in this process. Where these factors are potentially manipulable through policy interventions, our findings have the capacity inform the design of development programs aimed at reducing electoral violence. Second, we will provide new evidence as to how changes in structural factors, such as political institutions and economic circumstances, affect the frequency and pattern of electoral violence in the short-, medium- and long-run. This will provide insights with regard to which countries and regions within countries are most likely to experience electoral violence. It will also help practitioners identify the type of institutional reforms development agencies should push for. Finally, by focusing on a historical case, the project moves beyond studying the short-term effects of electoral violence to look at the longer-term consequences of electoral violence for political attitudes, participation and behaviour. We will thus provide an initial evidence base which practitioners can use to develop programs that mitigate negative long-term effects of electoral violence and thereby help to foster democratic consolidation.

The Department for International Development (DIFID), the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), and the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) are convinced of the practical relevance of this project and have written letters of support. Our Pathways to Impact statement highlights how through a practitioner advisory committee, on which DIFID, WDF, and USIP agreed to sit, we ensure that our research will produce policy-relevant insights for the practitioner community. In addition, USIP, DIFID, and WFD have agreed to support us in hosting dissemination events in Washington DC and London, which will allow us to demonstrate how results from our research translate into practical guidance for program development and refinement to reduce electoral violence in emerging democracies today.

Our research also benefits the general public by enriching their understanding and appreciation of British electoral development. In particular, by clearly demonstrating that the phenomenon of electoral violence is not unique to developing countries in the post-Cold War era, and has been a challenge to free and fair elections in Britain in the past, it will help to promote a greater understanding of the challenges faced by contemporary emerging democracies. In order to secure this impact, we have identified a number of blogs to disseminate our findings. We will also set up a project website where citizens will be able to use our data to learn about the history of electoral violence in their constituency. The visual display of our original data on electoral violence during the formative years of the Westminster system will give citizens insight into nineteenth century elections and enrich their understanding of British political development.

Publications

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Title Election Violence Event Database 1832-1914 
Description This database records election violence events reported in newspaper articles and Parliamentary papers for all 20 general elections between 1832 and 1914. The database records a summary of the event, location, date, type of violence, causes and associations mentioned, consequences mentioned, and the identity of people involved. We are currently in the process of completing the coding and cleaning the database. The database will be made public at the end of the grant. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact No impact to date 
 
Title Package durhamevp 
Description The package contains R-code to access, download, and manipulate the event data collected for the ESRC/AHRC funded project Causes and Consequences of Election Violence: Evidence from England and Wales 1832-1914. 
Type Of Material Data handling & control 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact No impact to date 
URL https://github.com/gidonc/durhamevp
 
Description Guest Blog Post on Victorian Commons Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Guest blog post on the Victorian Commons Blog describing and advertising the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://victoriancommons.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/victorian-election-violence-project/
 
Description Project Twitter Account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project Twitter account on which we advertise new blog posts and run a series of "On This Day Tweets" (#OTD) highlighting historical events of election violence. It is also a way for us to connect and link-up with other related projects and organizations. To date we have sent 379 tweets (#OTD tweets on the 1832 and 1868 elections) and have 361 followers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://twitter.com/VictorianEV_UK
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Launch of project website containing a description of the project, videos, and a weekly blog with short narratives of election violence events by members of the research team. The website has attracted over 5,000 unique visitors to date with 500 visits monthly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://victorianelectionviolence.uk