Over the last two decades, political institutions in dictatorships have been one of the most researched topics in the field of comparative politics. In the Dictator’s Dilemma at the Ballot Box, I explore the manners in which autocrats design elections and what consequences those elections have on political order in authoritarian regimes.
Specifically, I argue that dictators face a dilemma when designing elections: manipulated elections lose useful benefits dictators could enjoy at the ballot box, but excessively transparent elections make it difficult for them to “win big.” With this electoral dilemma in hand, the book contends that when the dictator has the capability of mobilizing public support through maneuvering of macroeconomic policy, he is less likely to resort to electoral manipulation like blatant electoral fraud and electoral institutions with high disproportionality. And when the autocrat fails to deal with the electoral dilemma, autocratic elections backfire on autocrats in the form of popular protests, coups, and the opposition’s stunning election victories. The theory of autocratic elections is tested on novel cross-national datasets on electoral manipulation and economic maneuvering; various illustrations from autocracies around the globe; and structured, in-depth comparative case studies of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan based on eight months of fieldwork.