Kinne, Brandon and Nikolay Marinov. 2013. "Electoral Authoritarianism and Credible Signaling in International Relations"

Journal of Conflict Resolution 57:359-386

How, if at all, do nondemocratic elections affect credible signaling in international crises? While the literature on credible signaling emphasizes the importance of electoral competition, it does not specify the minimal conditions that elections must satisfy in order to enhance the credibility of threats. We address this oversight by focusing on two fundamental properties of electoral institutions: (1) the degree of proincumbent bias and (2) the vulnerability of the incumbent to a de facto loss of power following an opposition victory. Our theory argues that both decreases in electoral bias and increases in incumbent vulnerability introduce greater accountability into the electoral process and thus enhance the credibility of public threats, even when elections fail to meet basic democratic standards. We apply these insights to the case of electoral authoritarianism, that is, regimes in which some form of electoral competition exists but basic principles of democratic governance are commonly violated. Using data on reciprocation rates in militarized crises, We show that, so long as electoral biases are sufficiently low and incumbent vulnerability is sufficiently high, even electoral authoritarian regimes are able to credibly signal resolve.

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