Lecture 3.1

Democratic Backsliding

Emmanuel Teitelbaum

What is Backsliding

Regime Types

  • Democracies
    • Free and fair elections
    • Protection of civil liberties
  • Hybrid regimes (illiberal, semi-authoritarian)
    • Elections, degree of fairness in question
    • More restricted civil liberties
  • Authoritarian regimes
    • No elections, or rigged elections
    • No basic rights and liberties

Democratic (or Authoritarian) Backsliding

“[A] decline in the quality of democracy, when it occurs within democratic regimes, or in democratic qualities of governance in autocracies.”

Lust and Waldman


Common Mechanisms

  • Constitutional amendments to enhance executive authority
  • Elimination of checks and balances, reduction of accountability
  • Centralization of executive power through purges
  • Intimidation of media and civil society
  • Elimination of political competition
    • attacks on competitors
    • rigged elections

Methods of Backsliding (Bormeo)

  • Old Way
    • Open-ended coups
    • Executive coups
    • Vote fraud
  • New Way
    • Promissory coups
    • Executive aggrandizement
    • Strategic harassment and manipulation


U.S. in Comparative Perspective

  • Kaufman and Haggard reading
  • How has backsliding occurred in middle-income countries?
  • How similar is the U.S. to these countries?
  • Is electoral authoritarianism possible in the U.S.?

Some Theories of Backsliding


  • State strength and autonomy (how leaders create it)
  • Role of elites in negotiating transitions, dividing power


  • Civic culture
  • Social capital and education

Social structures

  • Class (bourgeoisie, working class, etc.)
  • Ethnic fragmentation
    • Relevance of economic and political exclusion

Political Institutions

  • Presidential vs. parliamentary systems
  • Consociationalism (for divided societies)
  • Electoral institutions
    • PR vs SMD
    • If PR type of lists
    • Party fragmentation and instability (e.g. Indonesia)

International factors

  • International orgs (foreign aid, election monitoring, etc.)
  • Alliances (who are your friends?)

Political Economy of Backsliding


  • Exogenous Democratization
  • Rising wealth makes backsliding less likely
  • “No democracy was ever subverted in a country with a per capita income higher than Argentina in 1975: $6,055” (Przeworski)


  • “Redistributivist” theory
    • Democracy is more durable in egalitarian societies
  • When the poor demand redistribution of elite’s wealth, elites react by “digging in their heels” because redistribution would be too drastic (Acemoglu and Robinson 2006)
  • Demands for redistribution are less in societies with lower inequality and societies where assets of elites are mobile (Boix
  • Competition from rising elites (Ansell and Samuels 2014)

Macroeconomic Performance

  • Literature especially focused on growth and inflation (Kapstein and Converse)
    • High growth rates \(\rightarrow\) less risk of backsliding
    • High inflation increases risk
  • Arguably more about regime stability than democracy
    • Applies equally well to authoritarian regimes
    • High performing autocracies likely to survive
    • “Performance legitimacy”, e.g. China

Natural resource wealth

  • Undermines democracy
  • Promotes authoritarianism
  • Focus of next week’s discussion


Group Exercise

  • V-Dem Dashboard

  • Pick a country to explore and an indicator

  • Answer these questions first:

    • What is the level of democracy in your country?
    • How does it rank in relation to other countries in the same region?
    • What is the trend in democracy in your country?
    • Is the trend similar to the region as a whole?
    • Is its level of democracy predicted by modernization theory?
  • Then think about these questions:

    • Is you country backsliding?
    • What are the mechanisms of backsliding in your country?
      • economic, social, institutional, etc.