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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Explaining Democratization

New research published on why democracy does and does not take root

Posted: June 28, 2010

Some real strengths of the Department of Government are on full display in a current and forthcoming issue of the political science journal Comparative Political Studies. Faculty members Ken Greene, Zach Elkins, and Kurt Weyland have all published new research exploring the causes of democratization.

Ken Greene has extended the work he pioneered in his 2007 book, Why Dominant Parties Lose: Mexico's Democratization in Comparative Perspective, which was awarded the Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association’s Comparative Democratization section. Greene demonstrates that individual parties can dominate the political system through control of the public bureaucracy, which a party may manipulate, by exploiting state resources for its own political ends, and thereby retain dominance indefinitely. However, this incumbency advantage, which comes through privileged access to public largesse, is a factor of the size of the public sector. Since the size of the state determines the magnitude of dominant parties’ incumbency advantages, if the state shrinks, through privatization of state owned enterprises, for example, the dominant party is doomed. In addition to Mexico, Greene’s 2007 book analyzed Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, and Italy. The current article, “The Political Economy of Authoritarian Single-Party Dominance,” analyzes Mexico (1929-97), Malaysia (1974-), and Taiwan (1987-2000), but also Senegal (1977-2000), Singapore (1981-), Gambia (1963-94), and Botswana (1965-). The article also expands the 2007 analysis by subjecting the theory to statistical testing.

In the second and third articles, Zach Elkins and Kurt Weyland look beyond domestic causes of democratization and investigate the effects of international stimuli and diffusion processes to understand the mechanisms driving regime change and continuity, this time with a focus on democratization in the European context. Both articles are notable for disrupting conventional notions of European democratization emphasizing the critical role of variation in domestic power constellations as the major driver of regime continuity and change.

Elkins, whose 2009 coauthored book, The Endurance of National Constitutions, has also won APSA’s Comparative Democratization section Best Book Award, investigates the origins of constitutional ideas in 19th Century Europe and the influence of foreign models on the content and effects of constitutions that took hold in European countries. Elkins' article, “Diffusion and the Constitutionalization of Europe,” explains that the content of national constitutions affects the quality of democracy and the expected frequency of democratic reform; that central to tracing the roots of democracy is a theory of constitutional design; and that understanding national constitutions requires understanding the constitutional experiences and models of countries from which constitutional drafters were inspired by and borrowed from. Much of the data the article draws from is now publicly available through the Comparative Constitutions Project.

Weyland’s article, “The Diffusion of Regime Contention in European Democratization, 1830-1940,” lays out cutting-edge theoretical work for investigating the role of contagion effects on regime change. Weyland explains how striking regime change in one country provides a strong impetus for emulation in other countries, but emphasizes the necessity of distinguishing between diffusion processes and diffusion outcomes. In doing so, Weyland demonstrates how diffusion processes led not only to successful replication of democratic uprisings in Europe, but also led, in attempts to block successful replication of democratic reform, to the installation of authoritarian, corporatist, and fascist regimes. While a high-profile regime overthrow in one country inspires emulation efforts elsewhere, those efforts typically do not succeed. Diffusion processes are a trigger for change, but any number of outcomes, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are likely to follow.

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