Authoritarian Backsliding in New Democracies

23 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012

See all articles by Ryan Shirah

Ryan Shirah

University of California, Irvine - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2012


New democracies emerging over the last few decades have not faced a smooth path to democratic consolidation. Periodically, citizens’ rights and liberties in these states have been encroached upon, sometimes accompanied by a complete return to authoritarian rule and sometimes not. While recent scholarship has looked at the factors associated with authoritarian reversals, less attention has been given to the broader phenomenon of authoritarian backsliding, which I define as a decline in the freedoms provided to citizens in newly democratized states regardless of whether a regime change takes place. I identify two distinct kinds of authoritarian backsliding: restrictions on civil liberties and restrictions on political rights. An analysis of more than seventy new democracies emerging since the beginning of the third wave will examine the social, economic and political factors associated with each kind of backsliding. Particular attention is paid to those factors that have been shown to be related to authoritarian reversals, including economic downturns and civil strife. Additionally, I will look at the impact that institutions and institutional legacy, overall level of democracy, wealth, and extent of democracy in the region might have upon the restriction of rights and liberties. I demonstrate that while some factors are associated with backsliding writ large, others have different impacts on the restriction of civil liberties and the restriction of political rights in young democracies.

Keywords: democratization, regime transitions, authoritarianism

Suggested Citation

Shirah, Ryan, Authoritarian Backsliding in New Democracies (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Ryan Shirah (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Political Science ( email )

Irvine, CA 92697
United States

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