Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Trouble in Turkey’s Elections" by Erik Meyersson

Local elections were held in Turkey last week. Many people were wondering whether AKP, the dominant party in Turkish politics, would allow fair elections or whether they would try to illegitimately influence them. Weeks before the elections many interesting developments took place, including the dissemination of audio recordings of stigmatizing phone conversations (allegedly) between the prime minister and other parties (including his son). Many were under the impression that these developments would lead AKP to lose a significant share of their votes, since these developments cast doubt on the legitimacy of the ruling party and their leaders. When the election results came out, many people were surprised to see that AKP had maintained power in many big cities (including Istanbul, the most populous city in Turkey). This led many, including academics, to question whether the elections were fair.

An interesting study by Erik Meyersson attempts to empirically address this question. He finds a positive “relationship between the share of invalid ballots and higher voting share of the ruling AKP government in last week’s local elections in Turkey.” He explains his analysis and findings here

He concludes as follows: “All together, these last results further supports the hypothesis that Turkey’s most recent elections may have been implemented with substantial irregularities. Until a valid explanation for these results is presented that does not include voter fraud it is difficult to imagine what else could be going on.”

I wanted to bring this noble attempt to uncovering facts about the recent elections to your attention, and any comments by empirical economists would be appreciated.

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Fraud is always to be considered as an explanation. First, though: where did the spoiled ballots occur? If they were in areas with lots of illiteracy, for example, and those happened to be areas where the ruling party is strong, then illiteracy might be the answer. Or, if there were a lot of new voters in areas where the government was strong. Finally, if there were more spoiled ballots in areas where (1) the govt. was strong, and (2) the number of spoiled ballots was just enough to make the difference, that would tell us something.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 7, 2014 11:31:20 AM

Thanks for the comment Eric. I believe Erik considers the first (illiteracy point) point as a possibility and provides his thoughts on the issue. Similarly, he looks at different cities where AKP has varying degrees of strength and compares results. I'm providing below citations from Erik's post which I believe responds to these points. Do you find them convincing?

1) "Suppose the AKP has a higher support among the illiterate who are more likely to make mistakes when voting. In this case, we would not be surprised if there was a correlation between invalid ballots and AKP support. An explanation would be that those more likely vote for the AKP are also those more likely to make voting mistakes and have their ballots declared invalid. Given the large difference across districts in the large cities in Ankara and Istanbul, one can easily imagine this as a plausible explanation for the simple unconditional correlations.

It is here that the fixed effects used in the previous analysis becomes crucial, i.e. including fixed effects (FEs) to regressions of vote shares on invalid ballots control for all factors that vary across the FEs. Adding FEs for districts (Ilce) means we’re only looking at variation across ballot boxes within districts, whereas adding FEs for voting station means only looking at variation across ballot boxes within voting stations.

When doing this, although voters going to the same station to vote may still differ along several characteristics, it is much more difficult to argue that this systematically affect their likelihood of making mistakes in voting. The strength of the FEs is thus not that they control for everything, but that they reduce these differences to the point where it is less likely that the remaining differences represent an competing explanation for the correlation."

2) "The figure shows clear positive correlations between AKP’s vote share and the invalid share of ballots particularly for the first two columns. These are also cities where political competition between parties is also relatively high. In the third column, for Gaziantep, Kayseri, and Konya – races that tend to vote for the AKP no matter what – the relationship is significantly weaker."

Posted by: Murat C Mungan | Apr 7, 2014 1:51:12 PM

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