2019. Mitigating election violence locally: UN peacekeepers’ election-education campaigns in Côte d’Ivoire

Abstract: In war-torn countries, elections are often accompanied by violence-inciting disinformation campaigns, including rumours and hate speech, which spur violent collective action. To counter such disinformation campaigns, United Nations peacekeeping operations (UN PKOs) routinely organize election-education events. While the extant research tends to focus on how peacekeepers affect armed group and state behaviour, this study shifts the focus to civilians. It argues that peacekeepers’ election education influences people’s perceptions, attitudes and behaviours and reduces collective election violence locally. Learning about UN support for secure elections during such education events can convince people that political opponents will not be able to violently disturb elections, thereby mitigating fears of election violence. Also, election-education events provide politically relevant information that can strengthen political efficacy and people’s ability to make use of peaceful political channels. Finally, peace messages during election-education events can change individuals’ calculus about the utility and appropriateness of violent behaviour. Together, these activities can help people resist disinformation campaigns and, consequently, reduce violent protest and rioting locally. To test these expectations, I combine survey data on people’ perceptions and attitudes, events data on violent protest and rioting, and a novel dataset on local-level election-education events carried out by the UN PKO in Côte d’Ivoire from 2009 to 2016. The results show that when the UN PKO is perceived to be an impartial arbiter, its election-education events have violence-reducing effects at the individual and subnational levels.

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