Living in Different Worlds: Electoral Authoritarianism and Partisan Gaps in Perceptions of Electoral Integrity

Abstract

Many authoritarian political regimes hold multiparty elections in which the opposition often stands a chance to defeat the incumbent. How do ordinary citizens perceive the integrity of elections in such systems? We argue that government supporters follow the incumbent’s narrative in considering elections fair and legitimate. In contrast, opposition supporters regard elections in such systems as biased and not meaningful. We provide evidence from cross-country public opinion data and the unexpected 2018 Turkish snap election announcement to examine long- and short-term patterns of perceived electoral integrity. We find that the partisan gap in perceived electoral integrity is more substantial under electoral authoritarianism than under democratic rule. In the short term, electoral events can boost incumbent supporters’ confidence in the quality of elections. Our study yields implications for the dynamics between elites and citizens in authoritarian regimes in which elections remain the primary source of legitimacy.