My research investigates the variety of challenges to democratic accountability that have accompanied multiparty elections across the global south. While some of my work examines the conditions under which tactics of electoral manipulation, particularly violence and intimidation, are more likely to be perpetrated surrounding elections, much of my research tends to focus on the consequences of electoral repression for voting behavior, protest mobilization, electoral integrity and democratic backsliding. The central questions guiding my broader research agenda ask: what features concerning the conduct of multiparty elections in hybrid regimes contribute most to impeding government accountability for antithetical behaviors and policies? What tactics of manipulation used by incumbent governments are more or less effective in creating an uneven electoral playing field? How do these electoral consequences contribute to democratic backsliding? What actions are available to democratic citizens and civil society organizations to enhance accountability and promote turnover when incumbent governments promote the erosion of democratic institutions? And further, are there certain aspects of backsliding or repressive tactics taken by governments that are more or less likely to encourage civic action or, alternatively, despondence towards the democratic process?
Comparative Politics: Electoral Accountability, Political Violence, Democratic Backsliding, Protest Mobilization, Civic Engagement, Political Attitudes and Voting Behavior
Methodologies: Categorical Regression Models, Multi-Equation Modeling, Time-Series Analysis, Mixed Methods, Field Research, Interviews and Surveys
Area Expertise: Africa, West Africa, Senegal
Revise and Resubmit
Abstract: 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 and 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.
Abstract: Voters commonly respond to economic downturns by punishing incumbents. But what about the fate of the opposition? When assessing policymaker performance in tough times, do voters choose an established party with experience as head of government or an inexperienced challenger? Research on the rise of challengers emphasizes issue opinions and elite strategies. We argue instead that voter choices, for incumbents, main opposition options, and challengers alike, are shaped by perceptions of competence. While selecting unproven challengers is risky, we predict voters are more likely to bear these risks when the duration of economic underperformance is long and the government’s tenure is short. By depressing competence of dominant parties, this opens a window for parties lacking executive experience. A series of analyses provides evidence in support of our argument. By showing that parties in opposition can be distinguished on competence grounds, study findings widen the lens of how electoral accountability works.
Dodez, Tonya K. (September 2021). "The Anxieties of Disrupted Fieldwork: Reconciling Practicality and Passion in Redesigning a Research Plan" Digital Fieldwork: Reflections.
Dodez, Tonya K. "Elite Learning and Coordination in the Aftermath of Electoral Repression: Insights from Senegal." To be presented at the 2024 SPSA and MPSA annual conferences.
Dodez, Tonya K. "Reconceptualizing Electoral Violence and Intimidation: The importance of targeting in Senegal." Presented at the Ostrom Research Series (February 9th 2022).
Dodez. Tonya K. "Voting against Violence: the role of civic engagement in African elections." Presented at the 2022 MPSA annual conference.
Dodez, Tonya K. "Assessing the Electoral Consequences of Repressive Actions against Non-violent Protests." working paper
Dodez, Tonya K. "Pre-empting Electoral Threats: Legislative Representation, Insecurity, and Repression." working paper
News coverage of electoral violence is often dominated by extreme events in countries like Kenya or Nigeria and overlooks far more frequent occurrences of low-intensity electoral conflict, in democratically regressing African countries like Senegal. This book asks: how do citizens respond to instances of low-intensity electoral violence and intimidation and what actions are available to them? Existing research lacks a clear prediction; some find that electoral violence discourages voter participation and advantages incumbent candidates, while others contend that it mobilizes voters and hurts incumbents at the polls. This project addresses this puzzle 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 violence by enhancing the capacity of voters to hold repressive leaders accountable.
Drawing on Afrobarometer survey data, archival documents, in-depth interviews, and an original survey experiment from the case study of Senegal, my research finds that tactics which primarily target opposition elites are more effective at minimizing electoral backlash in the short term; in weakly institutionalized party systems, these tactics provoke less societal anger and fewer legitimacy costs to incumbents. However, intimidating the opposition leadership is not a winning strategy in the long term. In contrast, public backlash is more likely for incumbents who use repressive tactics against citizens, with this effect becoming more pronounced as civic activism increases. Yet, this immediate backlash from the electorate is followed by periods of diminished civic engagement over the long term. Study findings carry implications for future work on political violence and state repression, as they demonstrate how some forms of violence and intimidation, though less observable and blatantly harmful to the physical integrity of citizens, are quite damaging to electoral accountability and the overall quality of democracy.