Democracy and Durability: Empirical Analysis and a Causality Test

Article excerpt


Most of the regime shifts in democracies occur through the electoral defeat of the incumbents, while dictatorships relinquish power only through violence. Democracy requires consent of the citizenry and consent requires political legitimacy. Therefore, violent popular opposition is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a democratic breakdown. Thus, it seems that to the extent that democratic authority is rooted in the popular consent, political violence poses less of a threat to democracies than it does to dictatorships. However, recent experiences in Africa and Latin America indicate that democratic decay and political delegitimization coupled with disastrous economic performance shortened the lifespan of many democratic regimes. It is, therefore, not clear whether democracies are more or less resilient than dictatorships.

The current literature has failed to differentiate between the collapse of democratic and authoritarian rules or whether democratic regimes collapse for the same reasons as do authoritarian regimes. Therefore, the current literature is silent on whether democracies are more fragile or less susceptible to economic and political breakdowns. Using a multitude of political instability variables, this paper explores empirically whether political freedom and civil liberty (a proxy for democracy) have any effect on the stability of the political order. The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section two is an alternative view on the relative stability of democracies and dictatorships. Section three is an empirical examination of the effect of political freedom and civil liberty on the stability of political regimes. It also conducts a causality test of the effect of political freedom and civil liberty on the stability of political regimes. Section five concludes and provides suggestions for future research.

Alternative Views on Democracy and Stability

Some studies suggest that democracies are more stable than dictatorships. Resler and Kanet [1993] suggest that democracies build their legitimacy on institutionalized procedures and constitutional guarantees of political rights and freedoms, while the primary means through which dictatorships establish their legitimacy is good economic performance. Hence, economic setbacks are more likely to create instability in dictatorships than in democracies.

Sorensen [1991] suggests that political democracy facilitates the translation of economic power into political power. Dictatorships on the other hand threaten powerful interest groups which undermines their sustainability. The mutual accommodation of economic and political interests of the powerful makes democracies less destabilizing. Przeworski and Limongi [1991] also claimed that democracy allows political players to adopt, alter strategies, and build new alliances to advance their interests in the future. It gives them opportunities to achieve their goals through institutionalized competition within the existing political framework without creating political upheavals. Dictatorships, on the other hand, dampen these opportunities and political actors resort to violence to change policies or to assume leadership.

Democratic governments have a better mechanism for handling the transitions from one leader to another than authoritarian regimes, and elections are a practical and often peaceful ways for choosing between rival political leaders. Therefore, democratic regimes allow for a variety of leaders with different kinds of skills to come to power. If one fails, it is possible to replace him with someone else with very different qualities. Clague et al. [1996] indicated that the turnover in democratic leaders is not a sign of political instability but a reflection of an effective judiciary that denies those who are defeated in elections to unilaterally extend their hold on power, making the underlying institutional framework stable and durable. …