American Political Science Review

Research Article

Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders, and War


a1 Yale University

a2 University of Rochester


We propose and test a formal model of war and domestic politics, building on recent evidence on the relationship between regime type, the effect of war on the probability of losing office, and the consequences of losing office. The less the outcome of international interaction affects a leader's tenure and the less punitive are the consequences of losing office, the more a leader is willing to make concessions to strike a peaceful bargain. We demonstrate that our theory successfully predicts war involvement among nondemocratic regime types. Moreover, our theory offers an intuitive explanation for the democratic peace. Compared to nondemocratic leaders, the tenure of democratic leaders depends relatively little on the war outcome, and democratic leaders fare relatively well after losing office. Thus, democratic leaders should be more willing and able to avoid war, especially with other democrats.


c1 Alexandre Debs is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Yale University, Rosenkranz Hall, Room 311, PO Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520-8301 (

c2 H.E. Goemans is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Rochester, 320 Harkness Hall, Rochester, NY 14627 (


We thank Patrick Kuhn for help with the data of nondemocratic regimes (and, by transitivity, Jennifer Gandhi). We also thank the editorial team and anonymous referees; Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Terrence Chapman, Thad Dunning, Gretchen Helmke, Thorsten Janus, Stu Jordan, Jeremy Kedziora, Adam Meirowitz, Massimo Morelli, Michael Peress, Shawn Ramirez, Adam Ramey, Ken Schultz, Curt Signorino, Dan Slater, Johannes Urpelainen, Jessica Weeks, and Scott Wolford; seminar participants at Columbia, Princeton, Rochester, the University of Toronto, and Yale; the 2008 MPSA, APSA, and Peace Science Society meetings; and, in particular, Bob Powell, for extremely helpful comments.