The Dictator’s Dilemma at the Ballot Box

Electoral Manipulation, Economic Maneuvering, and Political Order in Autocracies
Masaaki Higashijima
Dictators don't dance
This title is open access and free to read on the web A free online version is forthcoming


Modern dictatorships hold elections. Contrary to our stereotypical views of autocratic politics, dictators often introduce elections with limited manipulation wherein they refrain from employing blatant electoral fraud and pro-regime electoral institutions. Why do such electoral reforms happen in autocracies? Do these elections destabilize autocratic rule? The Dictator’s Dilemma at the Ballot Box explores how dictators design elections and what consequences those elections have on political order. It argues that strong autocrats who can effectively garner popular support through extensive economic distribution become less dependent on coercive electioneering strategies. When autocrats fail to design elections properly, elections backfire in the form of coups, protests, and the opposition’s stunning election victories. The book’s theoretical implications are tested on a battery of cross-national analyses with newly collected data on autocratic elections and in-depth comparative case studies of the two Central Asian republics—Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The book’s findings suggest that indicators of free and fair elections in dictatorships may not be enough to achieve full-fledged democratization.
Masaaki Higashijima is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tohoku University, Japan.

Praise / Awards

  • “This book is an outstanding contribution to the field.  It informs our understanding of a variety of understudied features of authoritarian rule, including the reasons why fraud varies across autocracies, why dictatorships have different electoral rules, the tradeoffs dictatorships must consider in their election strategies, and the consequences their choices have for authoritarian survival.”

    —Erica Frantz, Associate Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

  • “Masaaki Higashijima’s book is an ambitious an important contribution to the study of electoral authoritarianism. Marshalling detailed cross-national comparisons and rich case studies, the book expands on the dilemmas that autocracies face with regard to elections and the key role of popular mobilization. The book provides new perspectives into an autocrat’s decision about how much to manipulate elections, and importantly about when electoral manipulation strengthens autocracy rather than undermines it.”

    —Yonatan L. Morse, University of Connecticut

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 368pp.
  • 49 figures, 49 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2022
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-07531-7

  • $85.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2022
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-05531-9

  • $42.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2022
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-90275-0