Polls of Fear: Electoral Violence, Incumbent Strength, and Voter Turnout in Côte d'Ivoire


How, and under what conditions, does electoral violence influence voter turnout? Existing research often presumes that electoral violence demobilizes voters, but we lack knowledge of the conditions under which violence depresses turnout. This study takes a subnational approach to probe the moderating effect of local incumbent strength on the association between electoral violence and turnout. Based on existing work, I argue that electoral violence can reduce voter turnout by heightening threat perceptions among voters and eroding public trust in the electoral system, thereby raising the expected costs of voting and undermining the belief that one’s vote matters. Moreover, I propose that in elections contested across multiple local rather than a single national voting district, the negative effect of electoral violence on turnout should be greater in districts where the incumbent is stronger. This is because when the incumbent is stronger, voters have lesser strategic and purposive incentives to vote than voters in localities where the opposition is stronger. I test the argument by combining original subnational event data on electoral violence before Côte d’Ivoire’s 2021 legislative elections with electoral records. The results support the main hypothesis and indicate that electoral violence was associated with significantly lower voter turnout in voting districts where the incumbent was stronger, but not where the opposition was stronger. The study contributes new knowledge on the conditions under which electoral violence depresses voter turnout, and suggests that voters in opposition strongholds can be more resilient to electoral violence than often assumed.

Journal of Peace Research (online first)
Sebastian van Baalen
Sebastian van Baalen
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Research

My research interests include the dynamics of violence and civil war.