Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
The literature on election violence has grown immensely in the past decade and has become its own little subfield within conflict research. Great strides have been made when it comes to conceptualizing, measuring and explaining the phenomenon. Birch offers a new contribution to this literature, seeking to provide a global mapping of patterns in electoral violence since the Second World War as well as new explanations for it. Birch explains election violence in terms of strategic incentives and how they relate to power structures in society. For example, in countries where power is linked to informal corruption networks, this raises the stakes of elections and makes informal violent sanctions of corrupt election practices necessary, thus further increasing election violence. Birch tests this argument in several ways. She conducts global cross-national regressions where she finds evidence consistent with the main implications of her theory, including a finding that strong democracies and less corrupt regimes have lower levels of electoral violence. She bolsters her argument with a number of case studies of countries such as Ghana, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Paraguay and Cote d'Ivoire. The book also delves into a number of additional implications of the theory relating to who conducts electoral violence and what type of violence, as well as state reactions. All in all, the book offers a comprehensive and compelling study of electoral violence. It should become a standard reference. Birch makes a strong case that we need to consider the institutional incentives for electoral violence in order to curb its use, and that such efforts need to target both formal and informal institutions.