Violence commonly covered by mainstream news media includes socially sanctioned violence (organized prizefighting, police actions) or violence between and among societies (international terrorism, wars). Less universal, with wide variation across political cultures, is coverage of political violence. Political violence—sometimes officially sanctioned by governments seeking to remain in power and other times by competitors seeking to control government—is used to capture or maintain political power.

Political violence can take many forms, including assassinations, rebellions, guerilla wars, kidnappings, or mob violence. Violent outbreaks between legislators are also common in some political systems. Political violence such as rebellions and insurrections may take place over years, but it can also occur in a time-concentrated form in the context of elections. Death tallies from political violence such as civil wars often have thresholds for reporting and analysis—but election violence, which typically has far fewer victims, is rarely studied. Only the exceptions, such as Kenya’s 2007 election and 2008 post-election violence—with nearly 3,500 casualties, including more than 1,000 killed and 350,000 displaced—are widely reported. This Essay looks at a subset of political violence—election violence—and its presentation in the media.

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