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Repression and Reelection in Democracies

Morrison, Kelly Elizabeth (2021) Repression and Reelection in Democracies. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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What is the relationship between elections and repression? How do voters evaluate repression, and what causes them to change their beliefs about rights violations? In this dissertation, I examine patterns of repression across democracies. I theorize that individuals’ reactions to human rights violations vary based on their perceptions about the group that has been targeted by state violence. When the public perceives a target to threaten domestic security and stability, they are more likely to support leaders who perpetrate repression in order to provide (real or perceived) security. Yet individuals are also likely to feel threatened by repression that targets their in-group members, which can inhibit their own safety and well-being. In such cases, voters may punish their leaders for repression at the ballot box.
In a series of three papers, I explore the implications of this argument at several different levels of analysis. In the first paper, I examine whether leaders shift their repressive behavior over election cycles, presumably to gain electoral benefits. In cross-national analysis of democratic elections from 1995-2019, I find that leaders increase repression of threatening groups as elections approach, but only during periods of domestic violence. In the second paper, I evaluate decision-making at the individual level using a conjoint experiment in the United States. I find that only individuals who identify as an in-group with recent repression victims incorporate repression into their vote choice by punishing repressive candidates. Finally, in the third paper I assess whether the international community can intervene to shift individual attitudes about human rights and repressive leaders. Using a vignette experiment in the United States, I find that only those who view repression targets as non-threatening and do not share a party with the repressive leader increase their opposition to repressive leaders as a result of international naming and shaming. Taken together, these three papers provide novel theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of elections for constraining repression in democratic countries.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Morrison, Kelly Elizabethkem237@pitt.edukem2370000-0003-3518-7330
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSavun,
Committee MemberColaresi,
Committee MemberFinkel, Steven
Committee MemberConrad, Courtenay
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 19 July 2021
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 2 August 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 220
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: repression, human rights, elections, democracy, public opinion
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 19:41
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 19:41


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