Why Rig Elections? Because it Works.

The Economist has an article this week on why people rig elections.  The answer is, because it works really well.  As the summary report of the key findings notes:

  • Using dirty tactics during elections helps politicians that are already in office. If they use illegal practices to win elections, they can expect to be in office around 2.5 times longer than if they participated in fair elections;
  • Dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives towards pursuing bad policies rather than good ones;
  • Checks and balances are effective in reducing the incentives to cheat and implement bad policies.
  • International aid has no clear effect on the quality of elections, unless there are effective checks and balances.
  • Small, poor but resource-rich countries are more prone to dirty elections.

In short, as the Economist notes,

Incumbents running in clean elections average six and a bit years in office; in rigged votes, 16 years. “Well, duh,” says Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, a British charity. Fair enough, it is obvious—but ten extra years may be more than expected.

Strikingly, the authors contend that “dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives.” This is because, they find, good economic performance makes a huge difference to an incumbent’s chance of re-election whether the vote is free or rigged, adding about three years’ to his or her tenure. Although economic success wins rewards in both systems, in clean ones, it adds 40% to a president’s time, whereas in dirty ones, the rewards of growth are swamped by those of rigging, which more than doubles the time in power. So rigging makes the economy less important to a president’s future—a rejoinder to the Chinese claim that in developing countries “managed democracy” is better for growth than an electoral free-for-all.

Obviously, not all developing countries rig the polls. Big nations seem less likely to rig than small ones—perhaps because they have more competing interest groups, making it harder to fake credibility by staging a poll win. Large government revenues from raw-material taxes makes rigging more likely by increasing incentives to get your hands on all that money. A few things make rigging less likely: term limits, the independence of the courts, parliament or press. And aid makes almost no difference. Even if outsiders are keeping the entire country afloat, their influence is patchy. As Mr Karzai earlier showed.

The full report can be found here.