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Catch Us If You Can: Election Monitoring and International Norm Diffusion


  • Susan D. Hyde is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, Department of Political Science, Yale University, PO Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06515 (

  • I wish to thank David Lake, Emily Beaulieu, Eric Bjornlund, Carew Boulding, Sarah Bush, Gary Cox, David Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, Keith Darden, Alex Debs, Daniela Donno, Karen Ferree, Clark Gibson, Peter Gourevitch, Julia Gray, Miles Kahler, Judith Kelley, Robert Keohane, Pierre Landry, Ellen Lust, Jason Lyall, Nikolay Marinov, Helen Milner, Irfan Nooruddin, Angela O’Mahony, Jon Pevehouse, Bruce Russett, Elizabeth Saunders, Ken Scheve, Ken Schultz, Duncan Snidal, Allison Sovey, Dustin Tingley, Jessica Weiss, and the participants in workshops at Columbia, Emory, Harvard, NYU, Princeton, Yale, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, and University of Rochester.


Why has the decision to invite foreign election observers become an international norm? More generally, how do international norms develop in the absence of incentives for cooperation or activism by norm entrepreneurs? Motivated by the case of election observation, I argue that international norms can be generated through a diffusely motivated signaling process. Responding to increased benefits associated with being democratic, international election observation was initiated by democratizing governments as a signal of a government's commitment to democracy. Increased democracy-contingent benefits gave other “true-democrats” the incentive to invite observers, resulting in a widespread belief that all true-democrats invite election monitors. Consequently, not inviting observers became an unambiguous signal that a government was not democratizing, giving even pseudo-democrats reason to invite observers and risk a negative report. I evaluate this theory with an original global dataset on elections and election observation, 1960–2006.