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Electoral Misconduct and Democratic Stability: Voting in Imperial and Weimar Germany

Volha Charnysh, Princeton, Niehaus Fellow
Monday, September 25, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm
A71 Louis A. Simpson International Building
Monday, September 25, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm
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How does past experience with elections affect the probability of democratic survival? We argue that practicing suffrage, even under autocratic rule, can strengthen the organization of political parties and increase partisan loyalty, contributing to democratic stability after the regime change. However, the quality of elections matters: electoral misconduct prevents the development of parties and their electorates, weakening democracy in the long run. We test this argument using an original historical dataset spanning over 60 years of elections in Germany (1871-1933). We demonstrate empirically that the accumulation of experience with clean elections before WWI lowered support for the NSDAP during the Weimar period. We then show that the strength of the conservative and liberal parties and voter loyalty to these parties are the main channels through which the quality of imperial elections influenced the NSDAP rise. The paper offers novel insights into the prospects for democratic stability in societies with histories of authoritarianism and advances our understanding of the structural factors that affect the success of the extreme right in times of economic turmoil.

Sponsored by
Project on Democracy and Development/Comparative Politics