In the Shadows of Great Men: Leadership Turnovers and Power Dynamics in Autocracies
99 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020 Last revised: 12 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 27, 2020
Political leaders differ considerably in the degree to which they consolidate power, but what gives rise to these variations still remains under-theorized. This article studies how informal political constraints associated with leadership turnovers shape intra-elite power dynamics. We argue that aging leaders’ efforts to manage the succession problem create an important, yet impermanent check on the power of subsequent leaders. To test this argument, we use the massive text corpus of Google Ngram to develop a new quantitative measure of power for a global sample of autocratic regime leaders and elites between 1950 and 2019, and employ a research design that leverages within-leader variations in predecessors’ influence for identification. We show that incumbent leaders' ability to consolidate power becomes more limited when operating in an environment where influential former leaders are present. Further analyses suggest that the presence of former leaders is most effective in reducing incumbents’ ability to unilaterally appoint or remove high-level military and civilian personnel. These findings have implications for our understanding of the dynamics of power-sharing and institutional change in autocracies.
Keywords: power sharing, personalism, executive constraint, leadership succession, autocracy, Google Ngram
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