Unlikely Democrats: Economic Elite Uncertainty Under Dictatorship and Support for Democratization
American Journal of Political Science, 61(3), 2017
44 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2017 Last revised: 5 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 2017
Influential recent scholarship assumes that authoritarian rulers act as perfect agents of economic elites, foreclosing the possibility that economic elites may at times prefer democracy absent a popular threat from below. Motivated by a puzzling set of democratic transitions, we relax this assumption and examine how elite uncertainty about dictatorship - a novel and generalizable causal mechanism impacting democratization - can induce elite support for democracy. We construct a noisy signaling model in which a potential autocrat attempts to convince economic elites that he will be a faithful partner should elites install him in power. The model generates clear predictions about how two major types of elite uncertainty - uncertainty in a potential autocratic successor's policies produced by variance in the pool of would-be dictator types, and uncertainty in the truthfulness of policy promises made by potential autocratic successors - impact the likelihood of elite-driven democratization. We demonstrate the model's plausibility in a series of cases of democratic transition.
Keywords: dictatorship, elites, democratization, formal models
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