Donor Support to Electoral Cycles

24th February 2021
Author: Siân Herbert

This rapid literature review explains the stages of an election cycle, and how donors provide support to electoral cycles. It draws mainly on policy guidance websites and papers due to the questions of this review and the level of analysis taken (global-level, donor-level). It focuses on publications from the last five years, and/or current/forthcoming donor strategies. The electoral cycle and its stages are well-established policy concepts for which there is widespread acceptance and use. Donor support to electoral cycles (through electoral assistance and electoral observation) is extremely widespread, and the dominant donors in this area are the multilateral organisations like the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), and also the United States (US). While almost all bilateral donors also carry out some work in this area, “almost all major electoral support programmes are provided jointly with international partners” (DFID, 2014, p.5). Bilateral donors may provide broader support to democratic governance initiatives, which may not be framed as electoral assistance, but may contribute to the wider enabling environment. All of the donors reviewed in this query emphasise that their programmes are designed according to the local context and needs, and thus, beyond the big actors – EU, UN and US, there is little overarching information on what the donors do in this area. While there is a significant literature base in the broad area of electoral support, it tends to be focussed at the country, programme, or thematic, level, rather than at the global, or donor, level taken by this paper. There was a peak in global-level publications on this subject around 2006, the year the electoral cycle model was published by the European Commission, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This review concludes by providing examples of the electoral assistance work carried out by five donors (UN, EU, US, UK and Germany).

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Suggested Citation

Herbert, S. (2021). Donor support to electoral cycles. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2021.043


24th February 2021


Continent: Global