Polls of Fear? Electoral Violence, Incumbent Strongholds, and Voter Turnout in Côte d'Ivoire


How, and under what conditions, does electoral violence influence voter turnout? Existing research often builds on the assumption that electoral violence demobilizes voters, but our knowledge of how electoral violence affects voting behavior is still inconclusive. In particular, we lack knowledge of the conditions under which electoral violence depresses voter turnout. This study takes a subnational approach to probe whether electoral violence decreases voter turnout and examines the conditional effect of local incumbent strength. Starting from the observation that both national and local electoral incentives shape voter mobilization in the midst of violence, I argue that the negative effect of electoral violence on voter turnout should be greater in localities where the incumbent is stronger. This is because voters in opposition strongholds have greater incentives to ensure large margins of victory and have purposive incentives for voting that make them more resilient to electoral violence. I explore the argument using an original subnational dataset of electoral violence prior to Côte d’Ivoire’s 2021 legislative elections. The analysis finds that electoral violence was associated with lower voter turnout rates at the voting district level, and that this negative association was greater in districts where the incumbent was stronger. The study contributes fresh knowledge on the democratic consequences of electoral violence, and suggests that opposition forces may be more resilient to electoral violence than often assumed.

Working paper
Sebastian van Baalen
Sebastian van Baalen
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Research

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