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Hyde: Can international election observers deter fraud

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Hyde. 2005. Can international election observers deter fraud: Evidence from a natural experiment. Dissertation chapter.


Using a natural experiment, Hyde shows that election observers can prevent election-day fraud.


People argue as to whether election observers matter. After all, most countries that invite observers do so only as a signal to demonstrate that their elections are clean. And even if observers do matter, is it their presence or only their deterrent effect that matters? And perhaps they don't matter--several governments have been known to invite observers but openly commit fraud anyway.

Natural Experiment


"Since the methodology used in this natural experiment is modeled after medical and epidemiological research, an analogy to this subject may be insightful to explain the reason for the persistent effect of monitoring on election day fraud. Suppose a cold virus circulates among a population and everyone catches the cold. Half of these individuals receive a treatment that also serves as a partially effective vaccination. Later in the year, the same cold circulates among the same population, but it spread much less rapidly, even among those individuals that didn't get the treatment. Those individuals that received the treatment were even less likely to get the cold." (p 36)

Random Assignment

The OSCE coordinators assigned each observation team a list of precincts to visit on election day. The people making these lists had only geographic data available. They did not assign observers to the most convenient or interesting places. Instead, their goal was to observe as many precincts as possible, both rural and urban. The assignment, then, was effectively random.

  • Since Armenia is one of the few countries to provide precinct-level election returns, this makes the natural experiment possible.


Since no candidate won 50% in the first stage (there were 9 candidates), there was a runoff. Observers were randomly assigned during both stages.


  • Round 1: If observers showed up during round 1 (visits often last only 20 minutes), the incumbent's vote share fell by almost 6%.
  • Round 2: If observers showed up only during round 2, the incumbent's round 2 vote share fell by 2%.
  • Round 2: If observers showed up only during round 1, the incumbent's round 2 vote share fell by 4.4%.
  • Round 2: If observers showed up in both round 1 and round 2, the incumbent's round 2 vote share fell by 6%.


Observation has both transitory and persistent effects.

  • Transitory: Observation effects a precinct in the round that observation occurs.
  • Persistent: Observation in round 1 effects round 2. In fact, the incumbent's vote share in round 2 was the same whether observers showed up only in round 2 or in both rounds 1 and 2.


Urban/rural cleavages and adjacency to Nagorno-Karabakh (incumbent's base of support) do not explain the differences.


It's not clear why observers decrease the incumbent's vote share, only that they do. Perhaps fraud simply ceases while the observers are there. But there are also persistent effects, not just transitory effects, suggesting that workers are also deterred by a fear of being caught a second time. We don't know exactly how much fraud observation eliminates, but we can see that it has significant effects. Indeed, given that the incumbent won barely under 50% of the vote in the first round, it is entirely possible that observation efforts were entirely responsible for causing a runoff to be held.