'Democratization or Repression?' The Role of Economic Clout
31 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2021 Last revised: 4 Apr 2022
Date Written: March 31, 2022
When faced with an internal legitimacy crisis should an autocratic incumbent democratize or increase repression levels? By employing an innovative staggered Difference-in-Differences design with a multi-value treatment, this article provides strong empirical evidence that economic clout — defined as the extent of economic influence over the international community by an autocratic regime — is a crucial factor in the autocrat’s decision to democratize. High levels of economic clout (HEC) increase democratization costs, making repression the cheapest and most attractive choice. The existence of HEC will prompt international trade partners not to pressure the regime to democratize in order to keep the favorable economic status quo that allows them to benefit from the economic gains from trade with the autocracy. In non-HEC regimes, the costs of repression will be higher since international pressure to democratize will be more pronounced, prompting the autocrat to democratize instead of investing in repression.
Keywords: democratization, repression, protest, foreign trade, rational choice, political economy
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