World Politics

Research Article

Defeating Dictators: Electoral Change and Stability in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes

Valerie J. Buncea1* and Sharon L. Wolchika2*

a1 Cornell University, Email: vjb2@cornell.edu.

a2 George Washington University, Email: wolchik@gwu.edu.

Abstract

What explains electoral stability and change in competitive authoritarian regimes? This article addresses the question by comparing eleven elections—six of which led to continuity in authoritarian rule and five of which led to the victory of the opposition—that took place between 1998 and 2008 in competitive authoritarian regimes countries located in the postcommunist region. Using interviews conducted with participants in all of these elections and other types of data and constructing a research design that allowed the authors to match these two sets of elections on a number of important dimensions, they assess two groups of hypotheses—those that highlight institutional, structural, and historical aspects of regime and opposition strength on the eve of these elections and others that highlight characteristics of the elections themselves. The authors conclude that the key difference was whether the opposition adopted a tool kit of novel and sophisticated electoral strategies that made them more popular and effective challengers to the regime.

Valerie J. Bunce is a professor of government and international studies at Cornell University. She is currently completing a book manuscript with Sharon Wolchik, tentatively entitled, “Democratizing Elections, U.S. Democracy Assistance, and International Diffusion: Electoral Stability and Change in Postcommunist Europe and Eurasia.”

Sharon L. Wolchik is a professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University. She is currently completing a book manuscript with Valerie Bunce, tentatively entitled, “Democratizing Elections, U.S. Democracy Assistance, and International Diffusion: Electoral Stability and Change in Postcommunist Europe and Eurasia.”

Footnotes

* For their valuable assistance with this project, we thank Melissa Aten, Aida Badalova, Nancy Meyers, Vladimir Micic, Dusan Pavlovic, Tsveta Petrova, Aghasi Harutyunyan, Igor Logvinenko, Sara Rzayeva, and David Szakonyi. We also thank those who offered insightful comments in two roundtables analyzing electoral stability and change organized by Aaron and Biljana Presnall of the Jefferson institute, in Belgrade, Serbia, on April 15, 2005, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, on November 9, 2007. We also thank those who contributed their feedback at the National Democratic Institute in Yerevan, Armenia, on March 8, 2007. In addition, we thank three anonymous reviewers for their comments on two earlier versions of this article. And we thank Marc Howard and other participants at the workshop on Democratization by Elections? organized by Staffan Lindberg at the University of Florida, November 30-December 2, 2007, for their comments on a related paper. Finally, the research for this article was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, where Sharon Wolchik served as a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow from September 1, 2008, to January 31, 2009, and by the Smith Richardson Foundation, the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict, the Einaudi Center for International Studies and the Institute for the Social Sciences at Cornell University, and the Institute for European, Eurasian, and Russian Studies at George Washington University.