The Political Violence Cycle

The Political Violence Cycle

by S.P. Harish, New York University and Andrew T. Little, Cornell University

Elections are often violent affairs, casting doubt on the canonical claim that democracy makes societies more peaceful by creating non-violent means to contest for power. We develop a formal argument to demonstrate that this conclusion is incorrect. Holding elections has a direct effect of increasing levels of violence close to the voting, as this is when electoral violence can influence political outcomes. Precisely for this reason, elections also have an indirect effect of decreasing levels of violence at all other times, as parties can wait for the election when their efforts are more likely to succeed. The direct and indirect effects generate a “political violence cycle” that peaks at the election. However, when the indirect effect is larger, politics would be more violent without elections. When elections also provide an effective non-violent means to contest for power, they unambiguously make society more peaceful while still generating a political violence cycle.

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Andrew T. Little


American Political Science Review / Volume 111 / Issue 1 / May 2017, pp. 237-255