Journalists, politicians, scholars, and citizens often talk about election interference – for example, the interference of the Russians in the 2016 United States elections – as an aberration. But Dr. Dov H. Levin’s new book Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions (Oxford UP, 2020) argues that they are a common form of intervention in the modern world, a “tool of great power politics” that are used by both liberal democratic and non-democratic great powers. Although work has been done in diplomatic history and intelligence studies, Levin claims that that electoral interventions have received very little attention from political scientists and he has created the first quantitative, book-length study treating partisan electoral interventions as a “discrete, stand-alone phenomenon.”
Levin (an assistant professor of international relations at the University of Hong Kong) aims to answer two important and relevant questions. First, when and where does such meddling occur? Second, what effects do meddling attempts have on the targeted election? Are they successful? Using a combination of methodological approaches – including multiple case studies, the creation of an original database, and multiple quantitative analyses -- Levin finds that interventions by great powers have significant impact in the desired direction in most cases when two concurrent conditions exist: the “great power perceives its interests as being greatly endangered by a significant candidate or party within the target” and another significant domestic actor within the country “wants or is willing to” collude with the intervention. Only when both of these conditions are present will partisan elector interventions occur.
Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
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