Building effective state institutions before introducing democracy is widely presumed to improve different development outcomes. We discuss the assumptions that this prominent `stateness-first' argument rests upon and how extant studies fail to correctly specify the counter-factual conditions required to test the argument. In extension, we subject the argument to three sets of tests focused on economic development as the outcome, leveraging new measures of democracy and state institutional features for almost 180 polities with time series extending back to 1789. First, we run standard panel regressions with interactions between state capacity and democracy. Second, we employ coarsened exact matching, specifying and testing different relevant counter-factuals embedded in the stateness-first argument. Finally, we employ sequencing methods to identify historically common sequences of institutional change, and use these sequences as growth predictors. We do not find any evidence supporting the stateness-first argument in either of these tests.
A large literature addresses the impact of regimes on domestic policies and outcomes, e.g., education, health, inequality, redistribution, public spending, wages, infrastructure, volatility, productivity, and economic growth. This study focuses on another vital outcome – industrialization – that has yet to be systematically explored using cross-country data. We argue that autocratic leaders are more likely to adopt an economic model of development centered on heavy industry because of three factors that distinguish democratic and autocratic regimes: different social bases, different security concerns, and different policy tools. Accordingly, autocracies have stronger incentives and better capabilities to pursue a rapid and comprehensive course of industrialization. We test this hypothesis using different measures of industrialization in a dataset spanning 200 years and most countries of the world. After a comprehensive series of tests, we conclude that industrialization stands out as one of the few areas where autocracies may enjoy a significant advantage over democracies.
We present a systemic threat theory to explain the introduction of Proportional Representation (PR). If facing a revolutionary threat, incumbents agree to enact electoral reforms such as PR to secure the stability of the system, even if this could imply their own personal electoral loss. We argue that the theory can help explain the largest wave of PR adoptions in history, namely in the years immediately after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Incumbents came to over-estimate the true revolutionary threat elsewhere in Europe. Simultaneously, reformist parliamentarian socialists came to push for PR to weaken the radicals within their party. Incumbents and reformist socialists could therefore support the same system. We test this using qualitative and quantitative data from Norway’s adoption of PR in 1919.
Political leaders often have private incentives to pursue socially wasteful projects, but not all leaders are able to pursue these interests. We argue that weaker accountability mechanisms allow autocratic leaders to more easily realize wasteful projects than democratic leaders. We focus on one particular project, skyscraper construction, where we obtain objective measures comparable across different contexts. We test different implications from our argument by drawing on a new dataset recording all buildings exceeding 150 meters, globally. We find that autocracies systematically build more new skyscrapers than democracies. Further, autocratic skyscrapers are more excessive than democratic ones, and—in contrast with democracies—autocracies pursue skyscraper projects to about the same extent in rural/poor and urban/rich societies. When investigating different mechanisms entailed in our argument, the link between regime type and skyscraper construction seems due in large part to stronger vertical accountability mechanisms and more open information environments in democracies.
Existing evidence shows that media exposure is associated with increased political popularity, but we know less about how the electoral effects of media coverage may vary with the content of the coverage. By collecting hundreds of thousands of media articles, which we then sort by content using automatic topic modelling, we build a unique dataset of political candidates, their popularity, and the quantity and type of media exposure that candidates receive. Analysing this dataset, we find that media attention is, indeed, an electoral asset. Further, and crucially, we find that voters reward politicians for politically relevant exposure, while non-political exposure is ignored, or even penalised. Consequently, this is good news for how democracies work; voters hold politicians accountable based on relevant information. The findings are of relevance to students of media, political behaviour, parties and political competition, as well as normative democratic theory.
The Historical Varieties of Democracy dataset (Historical V-Dem) contains about 260 indicators, both factual and evaluative, describing various aspects of political regimes and state institutions. The dataset covers 91 polities globally – including most large, sovereign states, as well as some semi-sovereign entities and large colonies – from 1789 to 1920 for many cases. The majority of the indicators come from the Varieties of Democracy dataset, which covers 1900 to the present – together these two datasets cover the bulk of ‘modern history’. Historical V-Dem also includes several new indicators, covering features that are pertinent for 19th-century polities. We describe the data, coding process, and different strategies employed in Historical V-Dem to cope with issues of reliability and validity and ensure intertemporal and cross-country comparability. To illustrate the potential uses of the dataset we describe patterns of democratization in the ‘long 19th century’. Finally, we investigate how interstate war relates to subsequent democratization.
Elite Political Dynamics in Electoral Autocracies (ELITE) is an ongoing project on political elites in electoral auocracies. The project team will study conditions that increase or decrease unity within and between parliamentary parties, the conditions that enable judges in electoral autocracies to safeguard and expand judicial independence, and the conditions under which political elites in electoral autocracies opt to promote human development. The project is funded by a RCN FRIPRO grant (10 million NOK) and I act as proejct leader.
The Emergence, Life, and Demise of Autocratic Regimes (ELDAR) is a large ongoing project on the processes of autocratization, policy-making in autocracies (education, pensions, infrastructure, media), and how and why autocratic regimes break down. ELDAR is funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant (2 million Euro).
In Politics of Dictatorships (PoD), the team members will study policies and strategies for repressing domestic actors, security policies and decisions on interstate war and peace, and cooptation policies in the areas of construction, higher education, and labor market regulation and social policies. The project is funded by an RCN FRIPRO grant (12 million NOK).
Mobilizing for and against Democracy (MoDe) focus on the social-group coalitions than make up pro-democratic protest movement. The team members will offer a comprehensive picture of how democratization trajectories have been shaped by the interest, capacity and interaction of the social groups involved – from the French revolution to the present. The project is funded by an RCN FRIPRO grant (12 million NOK).
In Improving Education for Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar Living in Bangladesh (Educaid), the team members aim to improve knowledge on whether and how education is contributing to mitigating the effects of forced displacement by comparing in-camp, out-of-camp, and host populations, and how to improve the quality of education programs for conflict-affected populations. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the project team tracks the conditions for education and other forms of learning in Cox's Bazar. The project is funded by an RCN NORGLOBAL2 grant (6 million NOK).