The Democratic People's Republic

Kevin Lewis

January 04, 2021

When Does Backsliding Lead to Breakdown? Uncertainty and Opposition Strategies in Democracies at Risk
Matthew Cleary & Aykut Öztürk
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


In recent decades, prominent national leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez gained power through democratic institutions, only to undermine those institutions once in office as part of a broader effort to consolidate authoritarian power. Yet attempts at “executive aggrandizement” have failed in other countries, with varying consequences for democratic institutions. We develop an agency-based perspective to enhance the understanding of aggrandizement and to explain when it results in democratic breakdown. Relying on comparative case studies of five countries — Bolivia, Ecuador, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela — our analysis suggests that the contingent decisions of opposition actors during the process of aggrandizement have a significant effect on regime outcomes. Irregular opposition attempts to remove incumbents from office, which are especially likely after electoral defeats, contribute to democratic breakdown. More moderate responses to aggrandizement, on the other hand, help the opposition actors to buy time until the next election, hence offering the possibility for democratic survival.

Democratic decoupling
Iza Ding & Dan Slater
Democratization, forthcoming


Democratic backsliding does not necessarily see all democratic institutions erode in parallel fashion. This article analyses contemporary democratic backsliding through the lens of institutional change, as a process of “democratic decoupling,” in which a systematic gap opens up between the constitutive features of liberal democracy. Specifically, we focus on the worldwide decoupling between electoral quality and rights protections over the past decade. Using global data from the V-Dem project, we establish that elections are improving and rights are retracting in the same time period, and in many of the same cases. We offer several illustrative examples from Asia of illiberal juggernauts who have ridden the waves of free and fair elections to do great damage to rights protections, focusing primarily on Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP in the world’s largest democracy, India.

Spies, Lies, Trials, and Trolls: Political Lawyering against Disinformation and State Surveillance in Russia
Freek van der Vet
Law & Social Inquiry, forthcoming


Although authoritarian states have expanded their tools to surveil citizens and spread disinformation, we know little about how political lawyers have mobilized to resist such covert strategies. Based on semi-structured interviews with Russian lawyers and open-government consultants, this article examines how political lawyers oppose three emerging authoritarian tactics of the Russian government: running disinformation campaigns by “troll factories,” wiretapping, and hiding information on government activities and public services. I find that, despite the repressive legal environment, lawyers have considerable success in developing legal and nonlegal strategies to hold government to account. As autocrats rely on information control to portray themselves as capable leaders, political lawyers and open-government consultants use audits and rankings to undermine political reputations. These findings from Russia may be broadly applicable to new authoritarian states in general.

The Price of Probity: Anticorruption and Adverse Selection in the Chinese Bureaucracy
Junyan Jiang, Zijie Shao & Zhiyuan Zhang
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Fighting corruption is often seen as a crucial step toward building better institutions, but how it affects political selection remains less well understood. This article argues that in systems where corruption functions as an informal incentive for government to attract talent, anticorruption initiatives that curb rent-seeking opportunities may unintentionally weaken both the quality and the representativeness of the bureaucracy. The authors test this argument in China using an original nationwide survey of government officials and an identification strategy that exploits exogenous variations in enforcement levels created by the recent anticorruption campaign. The study finds that intensified enforcement has generated two potentially negative selection effects: a deterrence effect that lowers the average ability of newly recruited bureaucrats, and a compositional effect that discourages the entry of lower-class individuals in favor of those who are affluent and well connected. These findings highlight important hidden human capital costs of corruption elimination in developing countries.

Standing By: The Spatial Organization of Coercive Institutions in China
Adam Liu & Charles Chang
Social Science Research, forthcoming


How do authoritarian states organize their coercive institutions over space? We argue that autocrats maximize the utility of their limited coercive resources by clustering them with perceived threats in society, i.e., segments of the population that are ideologically distant and have mobilizational potential. We test this proposition using a dataset that covers the universe of police stations (N=147,428) and religious sites (N=115,394) in China. We find that police stations are more likely to be located within walking distance of foreign religious sites (churches) than other sites (temples), even after controlling for the estimated population within 1km of each site and a set of key site attributes. This finding is robust to using alternative model specifications, different variable measurements, and multiple data sources. Moving beyond the clustering pattern, we also address the temporal order issue and show that the Chinese state has allocated more new coercive resources around existing foreign religious sites than native sites, i.e., after these sites are already in place. This study enriches our understanding of how autocrats rule and further opens up an emerging new methodological avenue for research on authoritarian politics.

Propaganda and Protest in Autocracies
Erin Baggott Carter & Brett Carter
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Does propaganda reduce the rate of popular protest in autocracies? To answer this question, we draw on an original dataset of state-run newspapers from thirty countries, encompassing six languages and over four million articles. We find that propaganda diminishes the rate of protest, and that its effects persist over time. By increasing the level of pro-regime propaganda by one standard deviation, autocrats have reduced the odds of protest the following day by 15%. The half-life of this effect is between five and ten days, and very little of the initial effect persists after one month. This temporal persistence is remarkably consistent with campaign advertisements in democracies.

Counter‐terrorism policies in the Middle East: Why democracy has failed to reduce terrorism in the Middle East and why protecting human rights might be more successful
Nancy Morris, Gary LaFree & Eray Karlidag
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming


Most quantitative research examining predictors of country‐level terrorism have used worldwide samples which potentially obscures regional or country‐specific effects. This may be especially problematic for regions in which common predictors of political violence differ from what is expected based on worldwide patterns. In this paper we explore the possibility that this situation exists for several key predictors of terrorism in the Middle East since the 1980s. For much of the past thirty years US policy has focused on the promotion of democracy and reduction of state‐based human rights violations in the Middle East, yet very few studies have quantitatively examined the effects of these variables on terrorism among Middle Eastern countries. Using Global Terrorism Data for 18 Middle Eastern countries from 1980 to 2016, we find annual increases in state‐based human rights violations and increasing democratization are both related to increases in terrorist attacks.

An Authoritarian Undercurrent in the Postmaterialist Tide: The Rise of Authoritarianism Among the Younger Generation in China
Shuai Jin & Yingnan Joseph Zhou
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: Using four national surveys and multiple indicators of authoritarian orientation, this study compares Chinese generations with multilevel ordered logistic regression and linear regression.

Results: Our analysis shows that the younger generation, Xi generation, is more orientated toward authoritarianism than its preceding generations, while its previous generation, Hu generation, was not more authoritarian than its prior generations when the Hu generation was the youngest in the survey.

The Politics of Ethnic Identity in Sub-Saharan Africa
Elliott Green
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


Recent literature suggests that African Presidents tend to target co-ethnics with patronage, especially in non-democracies. Coupled with evidence on the role of incentives in driving ethnic identity change, I propose that a change in the ethnic identity of the President should lead to an increase in the proportion of people identifying with the President’s ethnic group. I use survey data from fourteen African countries with Presidential transitions to show that ethnic Presidential change leads to an upwards shift in the percentage of respondents identifying with the new ruling ethnic group in non-democracies, and that this shift increases with the level of autocracy. I also show that countries where citizens perceive more ethnic favoritism see higher levels of ethnic switching. Within-survey evidence from Zambia demonstrates that this shift is immediate, and case study evidence from early modern China suggests that this phenomenon is not limited to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Winning the Game of Thrones: Leadership Succession in Modern Autocracies
Anne Meng
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


Under what conditions can dictatorships manage peaceful leadership transitions? This article argues that constitutional succession rules are critical for modern dictatorships, contrary to the predominant scholarly focus on hereditary succession or parties. An effective succession rule needs to solve dual problems of peaceful exit and peaceful entry. First, the rule must enable incumbents to exit power peacefully by reducing coup threats. Second, the rule must empower the designated successor to ensure that they can enter power peacefully. Constitutional rules help solve both problems, and are particularly effective when they appoint the vice president as the designated successor. The vice president’s access to material resources deters other factions from challenging the succession procedure, whereas designating successors without a power base is ineffective. Using original data on constitutional rules in African autocracies, I show that regimes that formally designate the vice president as the successor are more likely to undergo peaceful transitions.

Mobilizing the Masses for Genocide
Thorsten Rogall
American Economic Review, January 2021, Pages 41-72


Do political elites use armed groups to foster civilian participation in genocidal violence? Are armed groups employed strategically? How do they mobilize civilians? I investigate these questions using data from the Rwandan Genocide. To establish causality, I exploit exogenous variation in armed groups' transport costs induced by weather fluctuations: the shortest distance of each village to the main road interacted with rainfall along the dirt tracks between main road and village. I find (i) 1 additional armed-group member resulted in 7.3 more civilian perpetrators; (ii) armed-group leaders employed their men strategically; and (iii) armed groups invoked civilians' obedience.

Why does ethnic partition foster violence? Unpacking the deep historical roots of civil conflicts
Gaku Ito
Journal of Peace Research, forthcoming


Recent literature highlights the role of historical events in shaping contemporary political and economic outcomes. This article joins the growing debate by utilizing disaggregated data and mediation analysis to explore the causal mechanisms bridging ethnic partition by modern international borders and the risks of postcolonial civil conflicts in Africa. I argue that split ethnic groups are more likely to experience armed conflicts with the central government during the postcolonial age, and the conflict-escalating effect is particularly acute for large-sized split groups. When coupled with sizable demographic forces, ethnic partition heightens the political salience of the corresponding ethnic cleavage while generating greater information and commitment problems. The empirical results provide considerable support for the theoretical claim: first, ethnic partition increases the likelihood of armed conflicts between politically excluded ethnic groups and incumbent; and second, a major part of the conflict-escalating effect is attributable to the indirect and causal interaction effects induced by contemporary group size. The empirical analysis also reveals that the role of the primary alternative mechanism, political discrimination against split groups, in generating the historical treatment effect remains limited.

Nomadic Pastoralism, Climate Change, and Conflict in Africa
Eoin McGuirk & Nathan Nunn
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


Arid regions of Africa are expanding by thousands of square kilometers a year, potentially disturbing pastoral routes that have been forged over a long period of time. This disturbance is often said to explain why “herder-farmer” conflicts have erupted in recent years, as pastoralists and agriculturalists compete for increasingly scarce resources. We examine this hypothesis by combining ecological and ethnographic data on the location of pastoral ethnic groups with grid-cell level data on violent conflict in Africa from 1989 to 2018. First, using ecological data, (i) we confirm that areas suited to both agriculture and pastoralism are particularly prone to conflict relative to either agricultural or pastoral areas alone; and (ii) we find that the effect of precipitation shocks on conflict in these agro-pastoral zones is negative at the country-level, but not at the cell-level. To explain this pattern, we compile data on the historical location of borders between both types of ethnic groups. We find that droughts in pastoral areas lead to conflict in neighboring agricultural areas. This spillover mechanism appears to explain much of the negative overall relationship between precipitation and conflict in the sample. It implies that agro-pastoral conflict is caused by the displacement of pastoral groups due to low precipitation in their homelands. This finding establishes one mechanism through which climate change can lead to more conflict in agro-pastoral zones.

Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War
Mark Ramseyer
International Review of Law and Economics, forthcoming


The protracted political dispute between South Korea and Japan over the wartime brothels called "comfort stations" obscures the contractual dynamics involved. These dynamics reflected the straightforward logic of the "credible commitments" so basic to elementary game theory. The brothel owners and potential prostitutes faced a problem: the brothel needed credibly to commit to a contractual structure (i) generous enough to offset the dangers and reputational damage to the prostitute that the job entailed, while (ii) giving the prostitute an incentive to exert effort while working at a harsh job in an unobservable environment. Realizing that the brothel owners had an incentive to exaggerate their future earnings, the women demanded a large portion of their pay upfront. Realizing that they were headed to the war zone, they demanded a relatively short maximum term. And realizing that the women had an incentive to shirk, the brothel owners demanded a contractual structure that gave women incentives to work hard. To satisfy these superficially contradictory demands, the women and brothels concluded indenture contracts that coupled (i) a large advance with one- or two-year maximum terms, with (ii) an ability for the women to leave early if they generated sufficient revenue.


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