Rachel Beatty Riedl (Northwestern University)
“Authoritarian-Led Democratization” (with Dan Slater, Joseph Wong, and Daniel Ziblatt)
Authoritarian regimes become more likely to democratize when they face little choice or little risk. In some cases, the risk of democratization to authoritarian incumbents is so low that ending authoritarianism might not mean exiting power at all. This essay develops a unified theory of authoritarian-led democratization under conditions of relatively low incumbent risk. We argue that the party strength of the authoritarian incumbent is the most pivotal factor in authoritarian-led democratization. When incumbent party strength has been substantial enough to give incumbent authoritarian politicians significant electoral victory confidence, nondemocratic regimes have recurrently pursued reversible democratic experiments that eventually culminated in stable, high-quality democracies. Evidence from Europe’s first wave of democratization and more recent democratic transitions in Taiwan and Ghana illustrate how party strength has underpinned authoritarian-led democratization across the world and across modern history.
Volha Charnysh (MIT)
“Electoral Fraud and Support for Anti-System Parties: Voting in Imperial and Weimar Germany”
How do authoritarian election practices affect political outcomes after a democratic transition? We argue that party elites’ varied access to state resources in authoritarian elections has lasting effects on party institutionalization and structures mobilizational opportunities for anti-system parties in the democratic period. When party elites are able to win by relying on state influence, they underinvest in formal party organization and fail to cultivate stable voter linkages. After a democratic transition, the weakness of authoritarian successor parties undermines their electoral prospects, decreasing their stake in the democratic system and facilitating the rise of anti-system political parties. We test this argument using an original district-level dataset on German elections (1871-1933). We find that the subnational quality of elections in the imperial period predicts electoral outcomes in the Weimar Republic. We then provide quantitative and qualitative evidence that the old-regime successor parties’ shallow organization and weak societal roots in districts previously won through fraud explain this relationship.
Leonid Peisakhin (NYU – Abu Dhabi)
“The Role of Communities in Preserving Political Identities: Evidence from Forced Population Transfers” (with Volha Charnysh)
We leverage a quasi-experiment of history to examine the role of community in the long-term transmission of political identities. After World War II, ethnic Poles from the historical region of Galicia in western Ukraine were forcibly resettled to western Poland. In an arbitrary process, some migrants settled in their new villages as a Galicia-majority group, preserving communal ties, while others ended up in minority. We fielded an original survey to compare present-day identities in Galicia-majority and Galicia-minority villages. We find that descendants of migrants in Galicia-majority settlements are considerably more likely to exhibit traits associated with the historical Polish Galician identity and are almost indistinguishable from respondents whose families had not been displaced. Our findings suggest an important corrective to the current understanding of intergenerational transmission. Families are best able to transmit their identities when embedded in like-minded communities. Parental socialization alone, by contrast, cannot ensure long-run persistence as effectively.
Anne Meng (University of Virginia)
“Legacies of Violence: Independence Wars, Power Sharing, and Democratization in Africa”
What explains differences in levels of democracy and regime stability across Sub-Saharan Africa? This article argues that current political outcomes in African countries are linked to past participation in independence wars. I show that post-liberation regimes tend to be much more stable compared with countries that gained independence peacefully because post-liberation regimes are significantly less susceptible to coups. This resistance to coups is due to the fact that leaders of post-liberation regimes engage in power sharing with military elites. Using an original dataset on cabinet appointments in 47 African countries from 1960-2010, I show that leaders in post-liberation regimes are significantly more likely to appoint military elites to the Defense Minister position. By contrast, leaders in countries that gained independence peacefully generally try to shut military elites out of the cabinet or eliminate the Ministry of Defense altogether. Yet the stability of post-liberation regimes constitutes a double-edged sword: power sharing between military and civilian elites enables ruling parties to maintain a firm grip on power. Such regimes, though stable, are less likely to transition to multiparty democracy in the long run.
Grigore Pop-Eleches (Princeton University)
“Communist Legacies and Left-Authoritarianism” (with Joshua Tucker)
Bryn Rosenfeld (University of Southern California)
“A Loyal Middle Class: How Autocrats Use the State Sector to Secure Support”
Though scholars have long viewed the middle class as an agent of democratization, surprisingly little systematic research examines the middle class’s political preferences in contemporary autocracies. This paper argues that failure of the middle class to gain economic autonomy from the state stymies support for political change and provides the first rigorous cross-national analysis of middle class regime preferences. Using detailed survey data on individual employment histories from 27 post-communist countries, I show that, under autocracy, state-sector careers diminish support for democracy, especially among the middle class. The results are robust to changes in the measurement of both the middle class and democracy support. I also show that neither selection nor response bias, redistributive preferences, communist socialization, or transition experiences can account for the results. The findings imply that a state-supported middle class may, in fact, delay democratization.
Arturas Rozenas (New York University)
How does mass repression affect the military performance of soldiers in battle? Past research has highlighted trade-offs between the loyalty and competence of military personnel in authoritarian regimes, suggesting that some autocrats can sacrifice expected military performance by purging competent, yet potentially disloyal officers. Yet officer purges and “coup-proofing” represent only a fraction of the state violence to which soldiers in such regimes are potentially exposed. We know very little about how mass repression in broader society affects individual behavior on the battlefield. To address this gap, we employ a unique dataset containing millions of individual records on Soviet conscripts in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and millions of arrests and political killings during the Soviet Great Terror in the 1930’s. We link the two data sources at the level of individual family and birth location to study how experiences of repression at the individual and community level impacted the battlefield resolve and loyalty of soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. Our preliminary findings suggest that Red Army soldiers more exposed to pre-war repression were less likely to flee the battlefield, more likely to die, and less likely to receive awards for their war efforts. Yet while there is tentative evidence that repression helped resolve some collective action problems associated with fighting, the resulting higher casualty rates did not translate into increased military effectiveness. The effect of repression on individual soldiers was conformity and a crippling lack of initiative, not heroism.
Yiqing Xu (University of California-San Diego)
“The Effects of State Media on Opinion Formation” (with Jennifer Pan and Zijie Shao)
State-controlled media is often the centerpiece of propaganda in authoritarian regimes, forming the linchpin of the state’s efforts to influence public opinion. However, scholars remain deeply divided on whether the messages disseminated through state media are persuasive. In this paper, we study the effect of state television on the public’s policy preferences using an experimental approach. We present a panel of online respondents in China with two short video segments that closely resemble the content and style of one of the world’s most-watched television programs: China’s National Evening News (Xinwen Lianbo). One video focuses on domestic policy (state-owned enterprise reform) and the other on foreign policy (Sino-Philippine relations in the South China Sea). Each video contains randomized policy positions based on original Xinwen Lianbo transcripts. To strengthen the treatments, we also include interviews we filmed with Chinese academic policy experts who provide justification for the policy positions. By measuring respondents’ policy preferences before, immediately after, and 48 hours after viewing the video segments, we find that the videos effectively move the public toward the espoused policy position and have spillover effects on related policy domains. Some of the effects persist 48 hours after the experiment. In a context where state media broadcasts daily, these results suggest that propaganda can shape the public’s policy preferences.
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