How and Why Armed Groups Participate in Elections
by Aila M. Matanock, University of California-Berkeley and Paul Staniland, University of Chicago
Armed actors are often involved in electoral politics, from the fusing of ballots and bullets in armed political parties to insurgents covertly backing politicians. We develop new concepts and theory to better understand these complex relationships between violent actors and democratic practice. We first offer a novel conceptualization of armed groups’ electoral strategies that systematically maps out variation in the organizational directness and public openness of groups’ involvement in elections. We then use comparative case studies to develop theory about the conditions under which each of these electoral strategies is most likely, and what can trigger changes between them. The interaction of armed groups’ power and expectations of popular support with governments’ policies of toleration or repression determines the strategies of electoral participation that groups pursue. These concepts and arguments lay the foundation for a systematic research agenda on when and how “normal” and armed politics become intertwined.