Covert Repression and Voting Behavior: The Case of Argentina’s Dirty War
co-authored with Adam Scharpf (German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), University of Mannheim)
Abstract: How does covert repression affect voting patterns in post-conflict societies? Previous studies suggest that visible state violence such as extra-judicial killings polarizes citizens, stirs their social identities, and changes their partisan ties. However, we know only little about how other types of state repression affect political participation. To fill this gap, we study the influence of covert state violence on post-conflict voting behavior. We argue that clandestine torture or forced disappearances have a similar effect like overt forms of violence. While hidden from the general public, clandestine repression by state authorities may not only affect victims but also emotionally and cognitively impact individuals in vicinity of such violence. We expect that covert repression causes shifts in aggregate party vote shares similar to visible forms of violence. We test this expectation with Argentina’s first presidential elections after the military rule. During the military dictatorship (1976-1983), state authorities employed covert and overt repression against alleged subversive citizens. With original department-level data, we assess if these repression types are correlated with vote shares in the 1983 election, when the full extent of state repression was not yet known to the general public. Our findings reveal that the number of disappearances and of secret detention centers, a proxy for stealth torture, increased the vote share for the pro-human rights candidate that was unrelated to the military junta. The results highlight the importance of covert, as opposed to open, forms of state violence for political participation and post-conflict democratic processes.