Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2012

Elections and Democracy

Lecturer: Professor José Antonio Cheibub,
Department of Political Science,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Main disciplines: Political Science, Sociology, Economics
Dates: 30 July - 3 August 2012
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants


This course is an exploration of theoretical, empirical and some normative issues related to elections as a macro-phenomenon. In spite of considerable disagreement among scholars regarding what democracy is, everyone agrees that elections are necessary for it to exist. At the same time, elections are a central part in the vast majority of arguments about democracy – whether they are arguments about its causes or about its consequences. It is the fact of an election that will, under certain conditions, set in motion a process that may ultimately threaten the existence of a democratic regime. It is the competition implied in elections, on the other hand, that generates incentives for actors to behave in specific ways and produce outcomes that are of great importance to society. The goal of this course, therefore, is to bring together different theories that place the holding of elections (and not necessarily competitive ones only), at their very center. Each lecture will focus on a different angle of elections (why they happen, how they happen and some of the consequences they may have), covering large and varied literatures that do not necessarily go together. 

We will start with an examination of the relationship between elections and democracy (can democracy in any way be defined by elections? Why do dictatorships hold elections?). We will then proceed to examine a series of topics in which elections figure as the main causal mechanism in the generation of an outcome of interest. These include the very process of democratization, the emergence and consolidation of political parties, resource allocation across groups of voters and/or geographic units, citizen control of the government, and so on. The overall goal of the examination of this varied set of topics is to allow students to assess the nature and quality of answers to some specific questions pertaining to elections and, in the process, to generate interesting and viable research topics.

Students must write a 6,000 to 10,000 word essay within eight weeks after the course to receive a course certificate and earn credit for a PhD program. Students who fulfill this requirement with a passing grade will receive 10 points in their PhD account in the ECTS system.

Course Preparation
It is recommended that students read, or at least browse, the following books:

  • Dahl, Robert. 1971. Polyarchy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Przeworski, Adam. 2010. Democracy and the Limits of Self-Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Any textbook on elections and electoral systems


Lecture Outline

Lecture 1: Elections and Democracy
No one doubts that elections are a necessary condition for democracy to exist. Not everyone, however, believes that they are sufficient. The basic question in this lecture will be whether elections are sufficient to make a regime democratic. At one level the answer to this question is obvious: we all know that elections occur in many regimes that are not even remotely democratic; consequently, the mere occurrence of elections does not a democracy make. The debate, however, is whether, given this insufficiency, we need to have other, non-electoral attributes in order to characterize an election as democratic. 


  • Manin, Bernard. 1997. The Principles of Representative Government. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 4, pp. 132-160. [28 pp.]
  • Przeworski, Adam. 1999. “Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense” in Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón, eds., Democracy’s Value, pp.23-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [32pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1975 [1942]. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper Colophon. pp.250-302.
  • Katz, Richard S. 1997. Democracy and Elections. New York: Oxford University Press. Pages 2-106.
  • What Do Elections Decide?" in David Butler, Howard R. Penniman and Austin Ranney, eds., Democracy at the Polls: A Comparative Study of Competitive National Elections (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1981) 

Lecture 2: Observing Democracy
How do we measure democracies? The debate about how best to measure political regimes has no end; hence the goal of this lecture is not to resolve anything. What matters is that we understand what each measure entails so that we are aware of their strengths and limitations when they are used.


  • Cheibub, José Antonio, Jennifer Gandhi, and James Raymond Vreeland. 2010. “Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited.” Public Choice, vol.143, no. (1-2), pp.67-101. [34pp.]

Students should browse the next two items:

  • Freedom House. Freedom in the World. Survey Methodology. New York: Freedom House. [10 pp.]
  • Marshall, Monty G. and Keith Jaggers. Polity IV Project. Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2001. Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, pp.1-29 [28pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Przeworski, Adam, Mike Alvarez, José Antonio Cheibub and Fernando Limongi. Democracy and Development: Political Regimes and Economic Performance in the World, 1950-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. 13-36.
  • Munck, Gerardo and Jay Verkuilen. “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: Evaluating Alternative Indices.” Comparative Political Studies 35(1):5-34, February.
  • Treier, Shawn and Simon Jackman. 2008. “Democracy as a Latent Variable,” with Simon Jackman. 2008. American Journal of Political Science, 52 (1): 201–217.

Lecture 3: Why Do Dictators Hold Elections?
Until not very long ago, institutions such as elections and organizations such as political parties were considered to be “window dressing” in authoritarian regimes; they were created to provide domestic and international legitimacy to a regime that otherwise had none. Recent work has essentially dispelled this view, showing that authoritarian governments have good reasons to hold elections and to create political parties. What are these reasons?


  • Gandhi, Jennifer and Adam Przeworski. 2007. “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats.” Comparative Political Studies, vol. 40, no. 11, pp. 1279-1301. [22pp.
  • Gandhi, Jennifer and Ellen Lust-Okar. 2009. "Elections under authoritarianism." Annual Review of Political Science 12: 403-422. [19pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Cox, Gary W. 2009. “Authoritarian elections and leadership succession, 1975-2000.” University of California, San Diego. Typescript. [29pp.]
  • Magaloni, Beatriz. 2006. Voting for autocracy hegemonic party survival and its demise in Mexico. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pages 44-81.
  • Boix, Carles and Milan Svolik. 2008. "The foundation of limited authoritarian government: institutions and power-sharing in dictatorships." Presented at Dictatorships: Their Governance and Social Consequences Conf., Princeton University., Princeton, NJ

Lecture 4: Multiparty Elections and Democratization
Do multiparty elections held by an authoritarian regime increase the probability that a democracy will emerge? Some answers and evidence have already been touched upon in previous lectures. Now we want to begin to systematize them, starting with an examination of why competitive elections under dictatorship will improve the chances of democratization.


  • Levitsky, Steven and Lucan A. Way. 2002. "The rise of competitive authoritarianism." Journal of democracy, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 51-65. [14pp.]
  • Brownlee, Jason. 2009. "Portents of pluralism: How hybrid regimes affect democratic transitions." American journal of political science, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 515-532.]

Additional readings:

  • Lindberg, Staffan I. 2009. "The power of elections in Africa revisited," in Staffan I. Lindberg, ed. Democratization by elections: A new mode of transition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp.25-46.
  • Roessler, Philip G. and March Morjé Howard. 2009. "Post-Cold War political regimes: When do elections matter?" in Staffan I. Lindberg, ed. Democratization by elections: A new mode of transition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp.101-127.
  • Bunce, Valerie J. and Sharon L. Wolchik. 2010. "Defeating dictators: Electoral change and stability in competitive authoritarian regimes." World Politics, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 43-86.

Lecture 5: Can Multiparty Elections Be Held Too Early?
The basic view we will examine in this lecture is that multiparty elections in non-democratic regimes may lead to instability and civil war. The relationship between elections in non-democratic contexts and some kind of instability is not new. Huntington in his 1968 book postulated precisely such a relationship. For him, elections in the context of weak institutions, which prevail in many developing countries, produce instability. More recently, Snyder made the same argument: elections may be actually bad in non-democratic regimes, particularly if their societies are ethnically diverse. Finally, those who talk about the correlation between “partial” democracies, or “anocracies,” and conflict also make this argument. In this lecture we will address some of the following questions: Why would elections lead to civil conflict? Could elections have the opposite effect, that is, of defusing impending conflict?  Is it really the case that “anocracies” are associated with civil conflict? What are anocracies?


  • Snyder, Jack. From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict. New York: Norton, 2000. pp. 15-43 [28 pp.]
  • Cheibub, José Antonio, Jude Hays, and Burcu Savun. 2011. “Elections and Civil War in Africa.” Presented at the 1st Annual Conference of the European Political Science Association, Dublin, June 16-18. [24pp]

Additional readings:

  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Simon Hug and Lutz F. Krebs. 2010. “Democratization and civil war: Empirical evidence.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 377-394.
  • Hegre, Håvar, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates and Nils Petter Gleditsch . 2001. “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992” American Political Science Review 95(1):33-48.
  • Vreeland, James. 2008.“The Effects of Political Regimes on Civil War: Unpacking Anocracy." Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 401-425

Lecture 6: The Mechanics of Elections
The way elections are organized obviously matter and political actors are keenly aware of that. The focus this lecture will be on some of the more immediate consequences of electoral systems. Our first task will be to get a good understanding of the main components of electoral systems. The second task will be to understand the more-or-less mechanical effects that any electoral system will have. These include, but are not limited to, the degree of proportionality between votes and seats, the number of political parties seeking votes and obtaining representation, the probability that legislative majorities will occur.


  • Cox, Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World’s Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.13-98 and 203-224. [85 pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Amorin Neto, Octávio and Gary W. Cox. 1997. “Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties.” American Journal of Political Science 41(1):149-174, January.
  • Golder, Matt. 2005. “Democratic Electoral Systems Around the World, 1946–2000.” Electoral Studies 24(1):103-121.
  • Powell, Jr., G. Bingham. 2006. "Election Laws and Representative Governments: Beyond Votes and Seat." British Journal of Political Science, vol. 36, pp.291-315.
  • Andrew Reynolds and Ben Reilly. 1997. The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design. Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 1997.

Lecture 7: Political Parties and Democratic Elections
What is the relationship between political parties, elections and democracy? Must elections be partisan in order for them to be democratic? Are strong political parties always good for democracy? If parties are necessary for democracy, what kinds of parties must they be?


  • Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pages 3-158. [150pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Schattschneider, E. E. 1942. Party Government. New York: Rinehart. pp. 1-64.
  • Daadler, Hans. 2002. "Parties: Denied, Dismissed, or Redundant? A Critique." In Richard Gunther, José Ramón Montero, and Juan J. Linz eds. Political Parties: Old Concepts and New Challenges. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Stokes, Susan C. “Political Parties and Democracy.” Annual Review of Political Science 2:243-267, 1999.
  • van Biezen, Ingrid. 2004. "How Political Parties Shape Democracy." Center for the Study of Democracy, UC Irvine.

Lecture 8: Elections and Redistribution
The main question we will address is: how do candidates, parties, and/or governments target benefits they can distribute or promise to distribute? How are voters mobilized in elections? There is a debate on this issue, with some arguing that parties (and governments, as parties in power) direct goods to their core constituents while others say they direct goods to swing voters. There are those who claim (as it would be inevitable) that they use a combination of both. Finally, more recently, some authors started to talk about the fact that parties direct goods to neither; rather they use the goods to mobilize voters.  


  • Cox, Gary W. and Mathew D. McCubbins. 1986. “Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game.” Journal of Politics 48(2): 370-389. [19pp.]
  • Cox, Gary W. n.d. “Swing Voters, Core Voters and Distributive Politics.” University of California, San Diego, unpublished. [20pp.]
  • Dixit, Avinash and John Londregan. 1996. “The Determinants of Success of Special Interests in Redistributive Politics.” Journal of Politics 58(4): 1132-1155. [23pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Dahlberg, Matz and Eva Johansson. 2002. "On the Vote-Purchasing Behavior of Incumbent Governments.” American Political Science Review 96(1): 27-40.
  • Nichter, Simean. 2008. “Vote Buying or Turnout Buying? Machine Politics and the Secret Ballot.” American Political Science Review 102(1): 19-31.
  • Stokes, Susan. 2005. “Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics with Evidence from Argentina.” American Political Science Review 99(3): 315-325.

Lecture 9: Elections and Legislative Behavior
How do elections affect the behavior of legislators and other politicians? When will legislators cultivate a “personal” as opposed to a “partisan” relationship with voters? What kind of public policy will emerge under different electoral systems? What are the consequences of the electoral incentives of politicians? The focus in this lecture will be on the mechanisms that transmit (or preclude) electoral incentives to legislative behavior, the role of electoral rules in this process, and the policy consequences of the behavior induced by electoral considerations.


  • Figueiredo, Argelina and Fernando Limongi. 2000. Presidential Power, Legislative Organization, and Party Behavior in the Legislature. Comparative Politics 32 (2):151-170. [19pp.]
  • Carey, John M. and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1994. “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas.” Electoral Studies 14(4):417-439. [22pp.]
  • Ames, Barry. 1995. “Electoral Strategy Under Open-List Proportional Representation.” American Journal of Political Science 39(2): 406-433, May. [27pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Cain, Bruce E., John A. Ferejohn, and Morris P. Fiorina. 1984. "The Constituency Service Basis of the Personal Vote for U.S. Representatives and British Members of Parliament," American Political Science Review 78 (1): 110-125.
  • Crisp, Brian F., Maria C. Escobar-Lemmon, Bradford S. Jones, Mark P. Jones, and Michelle Taylor-Robinson. 2004. "Vote-Seeking Incentive and Legislative Representation in Six Presidential Democracies." The Journal of Politics 66 (3): 823-846.
  • Figueiredo, Argelina and Fernando Limongi. 2000. Presidential Power, Legislative Organization, and Party Behavior in the Legislature. Comparative Politics 32 (2):151-170.
  • Hallerberg, Mark and Patrik Marier. 2004. "Executive Authority, the Personal Vote, and Budget Discipline in Latin American and Caribbean Countries." American Journal of Political Science 48 (3): 571-587.
  • Hicken, Allen and Joel W. Simmons. 2008. “The Personal Vote and the Efficacy of Education Spending.” American Journal of Political Science 52(1): 109-124.
  • Mayhew, David R. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 1-78.

Lecture 10: Can Elections Discipline Governments?
Can elections make governments implement policies that voters want? Are there institutional conditions under which elections may be more or less capable of controlling governments? Are there such conditions that affect the congruence between the policies governments implement and the preferences of voters? What are the determinants of incumbents’ electoral performance? What is the relationship between electoral performance and power?


  • Fearon, James D. 1999. "Electoral Accountability and the Control of Politicians: Selecting Good Types versus Sanctioning Poor Performance" in Adam Przeworski, Susan C. Stokes and Bernard Manin, eds. Democracy, Accountability and Representation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 55-97. [42pp.]
  • Powell, G. Biingham, Jr., and Guy D. Whitten. 1993. “A Cross-National Analysis of Economic Voting: Taking Account of Political Context.” American Journal of Political Science 37: 391-414. [23pp.]
  • Cheibub, José Antonio and Adam Przeworski. 1999. "Democracy, Elections, and Accountability for Economic Outcomes." Bernard Manin, Susan Stokes and Adam Przeworski, eds. Democracy, Accountability and Representation. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 222-250. [28pp.]

Additional readings:

  • Ferejohn, John. 1986. “Incumbent Performance and Electoral Control.” Public Choice 50: 5-25.
  • Zielinski, Jakub, Kazimierz Slomczynski, Goldie Shabad. 2005. “Electoral Control in New Democracies: The Perverse Incentives of Fluid Party Systems.” World Politics 57(3): 365-395.


The Lecturer
José Antonio Cheibub is the Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy at the Political Science department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also associated with the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1994 and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania (1995-2000) and Yale University (2000-2006). His research and teaching interests are in democratization, the emergence and effects of specific democratic institutions, and political economy.

Cheibub is the author of Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy, Cambridge University Press 2007, the co-editor (with Robert Dahl and Ian Shapiro) of the Democracy Sourcebook (MIT Press, 2003) and the co-author (with Adam Przeworski, Michael Alvarez and Fernando Limongi) of Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), which received the 2001 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award given by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in the United Stated on government, politics or international affairs. He has published in several edited volumes and in journals such as American Political Science Review, World Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, Public Choice, Politics and Society, Journal of Democracy and Studies in Comparative International Development. More information about Cheibub's research and a full cv can be found at https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/cheibub/www/cheibub.html

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Published Oct. 10, 2012 1:30 PM - Last modified Jan. 7, 2016 10:47 AM