Ballots, Bullets, and the Bottom Billion

Issue Date April 2012
Volume 23
Issue 2
Page Numbers 119-132
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Competitive, but imperfectly democratic elections have become the predominant mode for selecting political leaders around the globe, even in very poor countries. Such elections are often projected to spark struggles for power by unsanctioned means, yet there has not been a corresponding rise in coups, assassinations, or the onset of civil wars for central control. Using updated datasets on various aspects of political competition over the past 50 years, this article looks carefully at the historical record. Contested elections in low-income nations are associated with the timing of irregular, violent efforts to seize or influence political leadership, but do not correlate with a greater number of such events.