Lecture 3.1

Democratic Backsliding

Emmanuel Teitelbaum

What is Backsliding

Regime Types

  • Democracies
    • Free and fair elections
    • Protection of civil liberties
  • Hybrid regimes (illiberal, semi-authoritarian)
    • Elections, degree of fairness in question
    • More restricted civil liberties
  • Authoritarian regimes
    • No elections, or rigged elections
    • No basic rights and liberties

Democratic (or Authoritarian) Backsliding

“[A] decline in the quality of democracy, when it occurs within democratic regimes, or in democratic qualities of governance in autocracies.”

Lust and Waldman


Common Mechanisms

  • Constitutional amendments to enhance executive authority
  • Elimination of checks and balances, reduction of accountability
  • Centralization of executive power through purges
  • Intimidation of media and civil society
  • Elimination of political competition
    • attacks on competitors
    • rigged elections

Methods of Backsliding (Bormeo)

  • Old Way
    • Open-ended coups
    • Executive coups
    • Vote fraud
  • New Way
    • Promissory coups
    • Executive aggrandizement
    • Strategic harassment and manipulation


U.S. in Comparative Perspective

  • Kaufman and Haggard reading
  • How has backsliding occurred in middle-income countries?
  • How similar is the U.S. to these countries?
  • Is electoral authoritarianism possible in the U.S.?

Theories of Backsliding

Hypotheses (1/3)

  • Leadership
    • State strength and autonomy (how leaders create it)
    • Role of elites in negotiating transitions, dividing power
  • Culture
    • Civic culture
    • Social capital and education

Hypotheses (2/3)

  • Specific types of political institutions
    • Presidential vs. parliamentary systems
    • Consociationalism (for divided societies)
    • Electoral institutions
      • PR vs SMD
      • If PR type of lists
      • Party fragmentation and instability (e.g. Indonesia)
  • International factors
    • International orgs (foreign aid, election monitoring, etc.)
    • Alliances (who are your friends?)

Hypotheses (3/3)

  • Social structures
    • Class (bourgeoisie, working class, etc.)
    • Ethnic fragmentation
      • Relevance of economic and political exclusion
  • Economic factors (see below)

Political Economy of Backsliding


  • Exogenous Democratization
  • Rising wealth makes backsliding less likely
  • “No democracy was ever subverted in a country with a per capita income higher than Argentina in 1975: $6,055” (Przeworski)


  • “Redistributivist” theory
    • Democracy is more durable in egalitarian societies
  • When the poor demand redistribution of elite’s wealth, elites react by “digging in their heels” because redistribution would be too drastic (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006)
  • Demands for redistribution are less in societies with lower inequality and societies where assets of elites are mobile (Boix
  • Competition from rising elites (Ansell and Samuels 2014)

Macroeconomic Performance

  • Literature especially focused on growth and inflation (Kapstein and Converse)
    • High growth rates \(\rightarrow\) less risk of backsliding
    • High inflation increases risk
  • Arguably more about regime stability than democracy
    • Applies equally well to authoritarian regimes
    • High performing autocracies likely to survive
    • “Performance legitimacy”, e.g. China

Natural resource wealth

  • Undermines democracy
  • Promotes authoritarianism
  • Focus of next week’s discussion


Group Exercise

  • V-Dem graphing tool

  • Interactive Map Tool

    • One variable multiple countries
    • Look at electoral democracy and one other variable
  • Variable Graph

    • One variable, compare two countries
    • Zoom in on one country from the map
  • Country Graph

    • One country, multiple variables
    • Start with electoral democracy and expand

** What interesting patterns/questions arise?