The Unintended Consequences of Democratic Reforms




Nieto-Matiz, Camilo and Natán Skigin. “The Unintended Consequences of Democratic Reforms: Electronic Voting and Criminal Violence in Brazil.” In progress.


Traditional theories of democracy posit that political competition promotes peaceful societies. By settling disputes through elections, democratic regimes are assumed to provide institutional mechanisms through which to channel otherwise possible violent conflict. Yet there is little support to such a claim, partly because the relationship between violence and competitive elections is largely endogenous. Exploiting the staggered implementation of a political reform in Brazil that gradually introduced electronic voting to reduce election rigging, we provide strong evidence that democratizing reforms can significantly reduce local levels of conflict. Results from a regression discontinuity design indicate that violence diminished by half standard deviation in municipalities where the electorate size was barely above 40,500, the magnitude that dictated whether electronic vote was first adopted, as compared to districts just below the threshold. Similarly, electoral violence decreased by a third standard deviation in treated municipalities. Identifying novel causal mechanisms, we argue that the reduction in levels of criminal conflict are driven by a reform that invigorated political accountability and eroded subnational political hegemonies. In this way, electronic voting strengthened programmatic parties and weakened those more likely to establish pacts with organized criminal groups. This article thus suggests that alternative ways to iron-fist policies can considerably curb crime and contributes to the literature on democratic reforms, elections and violence, and the political economy organized criminal groups.