On SAGE Insight: To Vote or Not to Vote – How Criminal Violence Shapes Electoral Participation

From Journal of Conflict Resolution

One of the most intriguing findings in the literature on political behavior is that victims of violence are more likely to participate in politics than nonvictims. Our current understanding of the relationship between political participation and violence is mostly derived from analyses conducted during postconflict or nonelectoral periods. Nevertheless, citizen participation in many countries, including Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala, has taken place in the midst of violence. Focusing on the Mexican case and based on aggregate- and individual-level data, this article shows that efforts by organized crime to influence the political and electoral arenas reduce citizens’ electoral participation.


Organized crime-related violence has important electoral consequences. Analyses of aggregate panel data on Mexican elections and an original postelectoral survey conducted in Mexico show that the strategic use of violence by organized crime groups during electoral campaigns demobilizes voters at large. Regions where criminal organizations attempted to influence elections and politics by targeting government officials and party candidates exhibited significantly lower levels of electoral participation. Consistently, at the individual level, results reveal that voters living in regions where organized crime engaged in high-profile violence were more cautious when deciding whether to vote or not. Prior research has focused on the role of crime victimization in nonelectoral participation, but the empirical evidence presented here suggests that the impact of a criminal context on turnout transcends personal victimization experiences.

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Article details

To Vote or Not to Vote
How Criminal Violence Shapes Electoral Participation
Sandra Ley
First Published May 22, 2017
DOI: 10.1177/0022002717708600
Journal of Conflict Resolution


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