Research on legislatures and political parties has strengthened practice towards over 30 developing countries worldwide, while findings on vote manipulation are helping the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other organisations to safeguard elections.

Impacts

  • Different aspects of the pioneering Deep Election Monitoring (DEM) model developed by the researchers have been adopted by governments and international organisations seeking to promote democracy around the world, including in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.
  • The DEM model is also being adopted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in several countries in Africa, to better monitor, support and improve the quality of elections.
  • Research done collaboratively with Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD),  a publicly funded democracy promotion organisation, means that WFD is now spending its £7.5 million centrally funded budget more effectively and with greater impact:
    • WFD followed recommendations to incorporate a mix of projects with different risk and scales, to become more flexible and effective in supporting democratic development worldwide.
    • WFD also changed its approach to explicitly integrate civil society partners in its work, leading to stronger legislatures and civil society groups in 30 developing countries.

"The findings have had a strong impact on the way the WFD designs its projects and spends its budget. We actively employ the trade-off matrix developed by Professor Cheeseman and Dr Dodsworth in order to better identify and overcome the risks involved in different policy interventions." (Dr Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation – Westminster Foundation for Democracy)

About the research

Although more elections are being held than ever before, electoral manipulation and violence is a major concern in many countries, with newly formed democracies being particularly vulnerable. "Electoral manipulation and violence can lead to political instability and even the collapse of political systems. It's essential to find ways to identify and reduce risks around elections, especially in new democracies," says Professor Nic Cheeseman at the University of Birmingham.

Over the last 10 years Professor Cheeseman and colleagues Professor Gabrielle Lynch, Professor Justin Willis and Dr Susan Dodsworth have conducted research on election rigging and manipulation strategies, working closely with colleagues at African research institutions – building a team with detailed knowledge and international expertise. The programme of research includes surveys of 8,500 citizens in Kenya, Ghana and Uganda; interviews with politicians and civil society leaders from countries across Africa, Asia and South America; and 'field simulations' of electoral manipulation with over 500 respondents in Kenya, Ghana and Uganda – providing a comprehensive view of the way that elections are run.

The research shows that the quality of elections in new democracies can be low, and subtle manipulation of elections for political advantage is increasing – for instance with leaders replacing overt political violence with less obvious strategies such as 'low profile' intimidation. Current techniques of election monitoring are often insufficient to expose fraud; observers tend to focus on the polling stations, whereas new manipulation strategies are carried out elsewhere, for example by manipulation of electronic voting and counting procedures.

Drawing on this evidence, the research team developed Deep Election Monitoring to not only cover the election itself, but also to track manipulation strategies at an earlier stage – identifying points where there is the greatest chance of electoral manipulation or violence. The UK team and partners in African universities worked together ahead of elections to produce voting risk reports and provide advice to senior policymakers about potential polling manipulation.

The research evidence also suggests that international democracy promotion is most likely to be successful using an 'investment portfolio' approach, incorporating a mixture of projects with different profiles in terms of risk and ambition. These findings have strengthened the way that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy designs its projects around the world, shaping its Strategic Plan 2018-2022 so that civil society partners are explicitly integrated for the first time.