Does preelection protest have an effect on the outcomes of authoritarian elections? Electoral authoritarian regimes use elections to consolidate their power and claim democratic legitimacy. Nonetheless, on some occasions authoritarian incumbents lose elections despite their advantages, and a democratic breakthrough is achieved. I propose that preelection protests contribute to such election results. Existing scholarship focuses primarily on the effectiveness of postelection upheavals, and the effects of preelection protest are still theoretically and empirically understudied. This article proposes a theory for why preelection contention has an independent effect on incumbent defeat of authoritarian regimes and democratization. I present empirical support for the association between preelection protest activities, incumbent defeat, and democratization using data from 190 elections across 65 countries with nondemocratic regimes. The findings of this analysis have important implications for studies of social movements, authoritarian politics, and democratization.

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