Hitting Them with Carrots: Voter Intimidation and Vote Buying in Russia

Timothy Frye (Columbia University)
Ora John Reuter (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
David Szakonyi (Columbia University)

Abstract: Many scholars have examined the determinants of vote buying, but far fewer have studied another common mobilization strategy: electoral intimidation by employers. We use survey experiments and crowd-sourced electoral violation reports from the 2011-12 election cycle in Russia to explore this understudied phenomenon. We develop a simple argument about the conditions under which voter intimidation by employers is likely to occur. Consistent with arguments about the decline of vote buying in middle-income countries, we find little evidence that vote buying was practiced on a large scale in this election. Voter intimidation by employers, however, was widespread, especially among employed voters and in Russia’s many single company towns where employers have considerable leverage over employees. In single company towns, the consequences of job loss are so grave that employer intimidation may often be sufficient to induce compliance even without direct monitoring of voter behavior. Outside of company towns where employers have less leverage, active forms of monitoring may supplement intimidation in order to encourage compliance. These results suggest that employers can be reliable vote brokers; that voter intimidation can persist in a middle-income country; and that, under some conditions intimidation may be employed without active monitoring. We also make reference to similar surveys that we have conducted in Indonesia, Turkey, and Venezuela.