Meddling in the ballot box

Bernt Aardal: Book report in Journal of Peace Research:

​Levin, Dov H (2020) Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Russian interference in the US presidential election in 2016 was far from unprecedented. Rather, it fits nicely in a pattern of extensive meddling in national elections by great powers, even before the French foreign minister Delacroix in 1776 gave orders to use all available means to replace George Washington with a ‘friend of France’. This book is based on a combination of qualitative in-depth case studies (including the US, West Germany, Venezuela, Philippines, Argentina and Guatemala), statistical analyses of a large N data set compiled by the author (117 interventions by the Soviet Union/Russia and the US between 1946 and 2000) and election surveys from selected cases. Levin finds that almost all meddling occurs under one of two conditions: the major power perceives its interests gravely endangered by a candidate or party within the target country or, even more importantly, there is a willingness by a significant internal actor to be assisted from the outside. Interventions usually increase the electoral chances of the aided candidate or party. Contrary to what one may believe, Levin also finds that overt interventions are more effective than covert ones. One of the major contributions of this book is the analysis of the effects of electoral interventions. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to separate the effects of such interventions from other factors influencing vote choice. This applies for Levin’s own attempts as well. However, his theoretical framework and thorough empirical work is nothing less than impressive. The details of the case stories approach thriller qualities, making the book a good read!