British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Authoritarian Institutions and Regime Survival: Transitions to Democracy and Subsequent Autocracy

Joseph Wright and Abel Escribà-Folch*


This article examines how authoritarian parties and legislatures affect regime survival. While authoritarian legislatures increase the stability of dictators, political parties – even when devised to quell internal threats – can destabilize dictators. The main argument is that authoritarian parties influence the distribution of power in a subsequent new democracy by helping to protect the interests of authoritarian elites. These institutions thus increase the likelihood of democratization. Using a dataset of authoritarian regimes in 108 countries from 1946 to 2002 and accounting for simultaneity, the analysis models transitions to democracy and to a subsequent authoritarian regime. Results indicate that authoritarian legislatures are associated with a lower probability of transition to a subsequent dictatorship. Authoritarian parties, however, are associated with a higher likelihood of democratization.

(Online publication September 26 2011)


* Department of Political Science, The Pennsylvania State University (email:; and Department of Political and Social Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, respectively. The authors thank Jennifer Gandhi, Barbara Geddes, Robert Fishman, James Honaker, Scott Mainwaring, Andreas Schedler, six anonymous reviewers and participants at the conference, ‘Dictatorships: Their Governance and Social Consequences’, at Princeton University (2008), for helpful comments on previous drafts of this article, and are grateful to Jennifer Gandhi for sharing her data. An Appendix containing additional statistical results is available online at