Popular Dictators: The Attitudinal Roots Of Electoral Authoritarianism
Shifts in mass sentiments can seal the fate of dictatorships, as witnessed by the collapse of Communism, the color revolutions in East Europe and the Arab Spring. But does popular opinion also play a key role in the rise of authoritarian regimes? Based on cross-national evidence and an in-depth study of the paradigmatic Russian case after the ascendance of Vladimir Putin, I show that electoral autocracies - the most persistent type of non-democracy today - are products of distinct opinion currents that emerge in the wake of profound political, economic and security crises. I find that two popular reactions to such traumatic contexts provide the foundations for electoral authoritarian rule: (1) mainstream political alternatives become delegitimized in the eyes of the population; (2) electorates become risk-averse, seeking short-term stability. Against this backdrop, incumbents with a record of effective, strong-armed rule gain decisive reputational advantages over their discredited alternatives. This allows them to establish and sustain authoritarian rule through the ballot box and with minimal resort to repression, assuming a veneer of electoral legitimacy. Fears of renewed instability, in turn, deter voters from challenging the regime both through voting and contentious action, enabling even poorly performing electoral autocracies to endure. This legitimation strategy has a key limitation, however: electoral authoritarianism becomes redundant both when it succeeds and fails in its mission of stabilization. To maintain popular consent to their rule, electoral autocracies must therefore sustain, or even manufacture the crises that justify their existence - a dynamic that has profound implications for the domestic and international behavior of these regimes.
electoral authoritarianism; popular legitimation; crises
Tarrow,Sidney G; Enns,Peter
Ph.D. of Government
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis