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Contentious Elections

Contentious Elections: From Ballots to Barricades

Edited by Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, Ferran Martínez i Coma

New York: Routledge – April 2015 – 194 pages 
P/b: 978-1-13-885303-4 $42.95 H/b: 978-1-13-885302-7 $140

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the world has witnessed a rising tide of contentious elections ending in heated partisan debates, court challenges, street protests, and legitimacy challenges. In some cases, disputes have been settled peacefully through legal appeals and electoral reforms. In the worst cases, however, disputes have triggered bloodshed or government downfalls and military coups. Contentious elections are characterized by major challenges, with different degrees of severity, to the legitimacy of electoral actors, procedures, or outcomes.

Despite growing concern, until recently little research has studied this phenomenon. The theory unfolded in this volume suggests that problems of electoral malpractice erode confidence in electoral authorities, spur peaceful protests demonstrating against the outcome, and, in the most severe cases, lead to outbreaks of conflict and violence. Understanding this process is of vital concern for domestic reformers and the international community, as well as attracting a growing new research agenda.

The editors, from the Electoral Integrity Project, bring together scholars considering a range of fresh evidence– analyzing public opinion surveys of confidence in elections and voter turnout within specific countries, as well as expert perceptions of the existence of peaceful electoral demonstrations, and survey and aggregate data monitoring outbreaks of electoral violence. The book provides insights invaluable for studies in democracy and democratization, comparative politics, comparative elections, peace and conflict studies, comparative sociology, international development, comparative public opinion, political behavior, political institutions, and public policy.


1. Introduction: Contentious Elections, From Votes to Violence (Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martinez I Coma); Part I: Corroding Public Trust 2. Do contentious elections damage public confidence? (Thad Hall, Susan Hyde, and Elizabeth Wellman); 3. Do Contentious Elections Depress Turnout? (Olena Nikolayenko); Part II: Triggering Electoral Protests 4. Do Contentious Elections Catalyze Mass Protests? (Alesia Sedziaka and Richard Rose); 5. Do Contentious Elections Overthrow Leaders? (Masaaki Higashijima); Part III: Catalyzing and Preventing Electoral Violence 6. Contentious Elections and Violence (Patrick M. Kuhn); 7. Do Referendums Resolve or Perpetuate Contention? (Katherine Collin); Part IV: Conclusions 8. The Risks of Contentious Elections (Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martinez i Coma)


"With more than half of the world’s countries claiming to be democratic, measuring the quality of democracy has never been more important. In this timely book, Norris, Frank and Martínez i Coma examine elections in which the result has been contested. Their findings are significant, and relevant to anyone who considers electoral integrity to be a core democratic value." —Ian McAllister, Australian National University, Australia.

"Contentious Elections is an important contribution to the burgeoning literature on election integrity, and a must-read for anyone interested in the dynamics of elections, protest and conflict. Bringing together a wide variety of empirical evidence from around the globe, Contentious Elections provides novel insights into the causal links connecting election integrity to legitimacy, electoral protests, and ultimately, election violence. The book argues that elections are neither universal peace-creators nor always spark war, but rather demonstrates that whether elections consolidate peace or trigger conflict depends on political, institutional and socio-economic conditions in which elections take place, providing important insights useful for researchers and policy-makers alike." Carolien van Ham, University of New South Wales, UK.

"Elections can trigger challenges and protests, sometimes becoming violent, when outcomes are contested. In this major new work, the implications of shortcomings in electoral integrity that provoke such challenges are examined in a broadly comparative framework by Norris and her colleagues. As the contributors to this volume demonstrate, contentious elections carry risks that need to be better understood by both scholars and practitioners. First rate, policy relevant, research on a fundamentally important topic." Lawrence LeDuc, University of Toronto, Canada.

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