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Research Interests

Comparative Politics: Electoral Accountability, Political Violence, Democratic Backsliding, Protest Mobilization, Civic Engagement, Political Attitudes and Voting Behavior

Methodology: Categorical Regression Models, Multi-Equation Modeling, Time-Series Analysis, Mixed Methods, Field Research, Survey Data

The Dissertation

Fight or Flight? Explaining Citizen Reactions to Violence in African Elections

My dissertation investigates the various consequences of electorally motivated violence and intimidation for voters, political parties, and the integrity of the electoral process in sub-Saharan Africa. This project addresses an ongoing puzzle of why the use of violence and intimidation sometimes seems to help incumbents win elections, while other times it backfires. It does so by demonstrating a) how various tactics of electoral violence can provoke different responses from citizens and (b) which actions taken by civil society diminish the electoral efficacy of government violence by enhancing the political efficacy of voters to hold repressive leaders accountable. Making use of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, I find that tactics of violence and intimidation which primarily target opposition political elites and/or are carried out by third-party perpetrators are more effective at minimizing electoral backlash as these tactics provoke less societal anger and greater ambiguity over who is responsible. In contrast, electoral backlash is more likely for incumbents who use repressive tactics against citizens, with this effect becoming more pronounced as civic activism increases. These findings suggest that while some forms of violence and intimidation may be less observable and therefore appear less harmful to the physical integrity of citizens, they may in fact be the most damaging to electoral accountability and the overall quality of democracy.

Non Peer Reviewed Publications

Working Papers

Dodez, Tonya K. "Don't Rock the Boat: Economic Voting and Opposition Viability in African Elections"

How do prospective economic evaluations influence voting behavior in African elections? Performance based voting models suggest that that poor economic conditions signal a lack of governing competence for incumbent parties, increasing the likelihood of a vote for the opposition. Yet many suggest that this attribution of responsibility for poor performance may not work as well in the African context. Contributing to this body of work on the veracity of the economic vote, I argue that the effect of economic evaluations on voting behavior is mediated by the perceived viability of the opposition, where voters only punish incumbent governments for poor performance where they perceive there to be a legitimate governing alternative that could do a better job. Despite poor performance of the ruling party, voters may still choose to support them at the polls because opposition parties, from their perspective, do not offer a clear and viable alternative for the future.  A series of microlevel analyses using Afrobarometer data land controlled comparison of Kenyan and Malawian election lend support to this argument, suggesting that incumbent accountability for poor economic performance may often be undermined by negative perceptions of opposition parties.

Dodez, Tonya K. "Reconceptualizing Electoral Violence and Intimidation: The importance of Targeting in Senegal."

Perpetrating acts of violence and intimidation prior to elections is often considered a strategy of manipulation intended to tilt the electoral playing field to favor the perpetrator. Yet, using violence can sometimes impose legitimacy costs on the perpetrators and have the unintended consequence of electoral backlash. I address this puzzle by suggesting that (in)efficacy of this strategy of electoral manipulation is a function of the type of violence and intimidation tactics used, asserting that citizens may not have the same reactions to all methods of violence and intimidation. This article draws on evidence of multiple instances of violence and intimidation prior to presidential elections in Senegal and classifies events based on variation in the main targets the violence was used against and primary perpetrators committing these acts. The findings from Senegal motivate a novel conceptualization of electoral violence that can leverage more precise theoretical predictions on how electoral violence effects political behavior.

Hellwig, Timothy and Tonya K. Dodez. "Playing it Safe or Taking a Chance? Choosing between Challengers."

Economic conditions serve as gauges of government performance, with voters responding to downturns by punishing incumbents.  Yet despite a large literature on the economic bases of government survival, no study considers variation within the opposition.  Does the economy matter for the choice between challengers?  When faced with the task of assessing policymaker performance in tough times, which challenger do voters choose: an established party with experience as head of government or an inexperienced outside option?  While conventional accounts attribute the successes of outsider parties to position taking on salient issues, we propose an explanation anchored in competence.  Even in tough economic times, selecting unproven challengers is always a costly proposition. These costs are minimized, however, when the duration of economic underperformance is long, and the tenure of the sitting government is short.  A series of micro and macro-level analyses provide evidence in support of our argument.  Study findings show that parties, even within the opposition, can be distinguished on competence grounds and not position-taking strategies alone.

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