The effectiveness of grassroots campaigns against electoral violence (Development and Macroeconomics)

ResearchNews electoralViolenceEvidence from Nigeria’s 2007 elections. Researcher: Pedro Vicente


Grassroots campaigning against violence during Nigeria’s 2007 federal and gubernatorial elections was effective in reducing physical intimidation and increasing voter turnout. These are the central findings of research by Professors Pedro Vicente and Paul Collier.


Their study involved a field experiment with ActionAid International Nigeria, in which the non-governmental organization conducted a campaign against electoral violence in six Nigerian states. The campaign worked through town meetings, popular theatres and door-to-door distribution of materials, and was designed to reduce intimidation by facilitating collective action to counter electoral violence.


Among the findings:
• The anti-violence campaign was able to increase the sense of security in the population as a whole. While hundreds of deaths (among numerous violent occurrences) were reported during these elections, the intensity of violence in the targeted states was reduced, as reported in journalists’ diaries.
• The campaign also boosted people’s empowerment to counteract electoral violence: the likelihood that a sample of voters took action against the violence was 8 percentage points higher in states targeted by the campaign.
• The campaign also produced spillovers to people in untargeted states in terms of decreased perceptions of violence.
• Political intimidation was a strategy predominantly linked to non-incumbent political groups – so the campaign favored incumbent candidates, who were not associated with the violence.
• The intervention increased voter turnout in the gubernatorial elections by 11 percentage points.
• These effects on ordinary citizens may have undermined violence as an electoral strategy by politicians. Indeed, there was a clear decrease in actual violence as reported in the journalists’ diaries: a 47 percentage point reduction in the likelihood that physical violence occurred.


Co-author Pedro Vicente comments:
Our findings suggest optimism about the potential role of community-based campaigning in counteracting electoral violence. Relatively insignificant but targeted events can mobilize citizens to collective action.
Specifically, more participation at the polls together with improved security and empowerment of the population may be mutually reinforcing, in a context in which violence is associated with small political groups.

Anti-violence campaigns may then be an especially effective form of voter education, working mainly as a coordination mechanism, and relatively undemanding of the amount of information that is given to voters.

 

This article is based on the paper ‘Votes and Violence: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Nigeria’, authored by Pedro Vicente (Associate Professor at Nova SBE) and Paul Collier (University of Oxford) and published in the February 2014 issue of the Economic Journal.

 

Date posted: Jan 2015