Landowners and Democracy: The Social Origins of Democracy Reconsidered

Forthcoming, World Politics

57 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2016

See all articles by Michael Albertus

Michael Albertus

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 7, 2016


Are large landowners, especially those engaged in labor-dependent agriculture, detrimental to democratization and subsequent democratic survival? This assumption is at the heart of both canonical and recent influential work on regime transition and durability. Using an original panel dataset on the extent of labor-dependent agriculture in countries across the world since 1930, I find that labor-dependent agriculture was historically bad for democratic stability and stunted suffrage extension, parliamentary independence, and free and fair elections. However, the negative influence of labor-dependent agriculture on democracy started to turn positive around the time of democracy’s Third Wave. The dual threats of land reform and costly domestic insurgencies in that period – often with more potent consequences under dictators – plausibly prompted landowners to push for democracy with strong horizontal constraints and favorable institutions that could protect their property over the long term with more reliability than dictatorship. The shift in support for democracy by labor-dependent landowners is a major untold story of democracy’s Third Wave, and helps explain the persistent democratic deficit in many new democracies.

Keywords: democracy, landowners, dictatorship, civil war, land reform

Suggested Citation

Albertus, Michael, Landowners and Democracy: The Social Origins of Democracy Reconsidered (October 7, 2016). Forthcoming, World Politics, Available at SSRN:

Michael Albertus (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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