Citizens' political perception and behavior in authoritarian elections

Date

2022-05-10

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Abstract

Scholars have debated whether authoritarian elections are conducive to democratization or authoritarian survival. This study contributes to developing the literature about authoritarian elections by focusing on citizens as main political players. This study mainly examines citizens’ political behavior and perception in authoritarian elections. What type of people are more likely to vote and why do they vote in authoritarian elections? Why do citizens support opposition parties in authoritarian elections? Considering that unfair elections characterize authoritarian elections because of diverse electoral manipulation tactics, how do citizens perceive and react against authoritarian regimes’ electoral manipulation? Do authoritarian elections change citizens’ political behavior because they are exposed to the democratic process across repeated elections in spite of it being a limited way? These are main questions this study will address. Considering that there have been controversial arguments about the efficacy of authoritarian elections on democratization or authoritarian survival, my research contributes to examining the effect of authoritarian elections on citizens. Furthermore, as previous studies about authoritarian elections have focused on macro-level data analysis, I employ Afro Barometer and Arab Barometer data to explore citizens’ political behavior and perceptions at a micro-level. First, this dissertation examines the voting behavior of citizens in authoritarian elections. While previous studies focused on the determinants of voter turnout in authoritarian elections based on the patronage relationship, this study contributes to finding that citizens’ political predisposition, such as political interest, plays a role in determining turnout in authoritarian elections. Furthermore, this study explores who is more likely to support opposition parties in authoritarian elections. By doing this, this study demonstrates that authoritarian elections can function as a tool for political change because citizens can show retrospective voting behavior in authoritarian elections. Second, this study confirms that flawed authoritarian regime elections trigger political grievance among citizens, which leads them to go to collective action against the authoritarian regimes. While previous studies found the relationship between electoral manipulation and the occurrence of protests at a national level, this study ratifies that citizens who experience authoritarian regimes’ electoral manipulation are more likely to join in protest against incumbents at a micro-level. In addition, citizens who support opposition parties are more likely to perceive unfair elections; therefore, they are more likely to join protests if they experience authoritarian regimes’ electoral manipulation. Thus, this result implies that authoritarian elections can threaten authoritarian survival. Finally, this study contributes to finding that repeated authoritarian elections induce citizens’ political learning of democracy. This study demonstrates that throughout the reiteration of authoritarian elections, citizens’ voting behavior resembles that of citizens in established democratic elections as the importance of political predisposition in determining voter turnout increases.

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Keywords

Voting behavior, Authoritarian election, Political grievance, Protest, Democratization, Authoritarian survival

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