Why do states engage in violence against marginalized social groups? State violence is typically explained as a calculated response to dissent or as a means of preventing dissent. However, many instances of state violence against members of marginalized groups appear to be unconnected to dissent or anti-state mobilization. We examine this dimension of state violence and connect it to control of the government by nationalist political parties and the preferences of their voting bases. We argue that governments in which nationalist parties hold substantial influence are more likely to adopt policies that lead to abuse. Such policies include more aggressive policing of immigrants and ethnic minorities, and lax oversight and punishment of agencies responsible for policing. To test our argument, we examine the Ill-Treatment and Torture data, which record allegations of state violence and also information about the victim’s identity. We find that states with nationalist governments are more frequently accused of abuse against marginalized groups. Our results suggest that, rather than constraining abusive behavior through electoral accountability, the public in democratic countries sometimes prefer leaders who create a more abusive environment for marginalized groups.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.