Armed Groups and Militarized Elections International Studies Quarterly
Paul Staniland  |  December 1, 2015

Nonstate armed groups are often involved in electoral violence, but we know little about the origins or fates of these groups. This article develops an interactive theory of relations between governments and electoral armed groups. Governments assign different political roles to armed groups that reflect their ideological position and electoral value. State strategies flow from these political roles, but groups’ organizational capacity can allow them to resist government efforts to control, destroy, or incorporate them. The interaction of regime political interests and armed group autonomy leads to five distinct government-armed group trajectories, ranging from incorporation to violent conflict. I use comparative evidence from militarized elections in Karachi to illustrate the validity of the concepts and assess the power of the theory, while also exploring its limits and the need for future research. My argument and findings matter for our understanding of the linkages between democracy, civil conflict, and state power.