Why Allow Local Elections? Mobilization, Manipulation, and the Abolition of Russian Mayoral Elections

In: Russian Politics
Cole J. Harvey Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK USA

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Local executives in electoral authoritarian regimes can perform important regime-sustaining functions, including by delivering votes to the ruling party at election-time. Furthermore, when local executives are themselves elected, regimes can benefit from improved legitimacy and efficiency in local government. Yet elected local executives can create principal-agent problems and increase the risk that opposition groups gain office. How do authoritarian governments manage this tension? Prior research on Russia shows that elections are used to co-opt strong local mayors, while weak mayors are replaced with appointed managers. This paper argues that strong mayors are more likely to see elections canceled if their local machine is not delivering manufactured electoral support to the national party, while weak mayors are unlikely to be targeted. This hypothesis is supported using data from 207 Russian cities, including election-forensic estimates of election manipulation. The findings improve our understanding of cooptation of local leaders in electoral authoritarian regimes.

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