Power Tool or Dull Blade? Selectorate Theory for Autocracies
Posted: 12 May 2015
Date Written: May 2015
This article assesses the utility of selectorate theory as a tool for understanding authoritarian politics. We start by discussing the intellectual history of the selectorate concept and its original usage in the authoritarian context. We then turn our focus to the selectorate theory as developed in The Logic of Political Survival (LPS) ( Bueno de Mesquita et al. 2003 ), identifying three problematic aspects of the theory and its application to authoritarian politics. First, the utility of the theory's key concepts of the selectorate and winning coalition is questionable in authoritarian systems where formal institutions to structure political transitions are absent or inconsequential. Second, measurement of the sizes of the selectorate and winning coalition is flawed, calling into question the empirical findings in LPS, such as its central claims about the survival of rulers. Third, the assumptions in the LPS version of the theory are restrictive in ways that reduce the utility of the selectorate concept relative to earlier works. We conclude that selectorate theory is a blunt instrument for understanding authoritarian rule.
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