Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Changing Lanes or Stuck in the Middle: Why Are Anocracies More Prone to Civil Wars?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Changing Lanes or Stuck in the Middle: Why Are Anocracies More Prone to Civil Wars?

Article excerpt


Past research on regime type and civil war points to anocratic regimes as having a high probability of civil war onset. The specific characteristics of anocratic regimes that lead to their predisposition for civil war have been left unexplained. In this article, the authors examine how the transitional characteristics of anocracy explain the enhanced risk of civil war onset. The results point to three important conclusions. First, anocratic regimes are most likely to experience civil war in the first few years of their duration. Second, transitions into anocracy from democracy leave states at a higher risk of civil war. Third, the probability of civil war onset increases with the magnitude of a transition into anocracy.


international politics, conflict processes, international security

Research into the causes of civil war has identified anocratic governance and/or the existence of a political transition as a particularly high-risk regime characteristic. Many- possibly the modal category of studies-demonstrate a curvilinear relationship between regime characteristics and the likelihood of civil war onset, with highly autocratic and highly democratic states' being considerably less vulnerable than anocracies (e.g., Reynal-Querol 2002; Sambanis 2004; Urdal 2005; Regan and Norton 2005). In short, there seems to be something about the vulnerability of states with political regimes in the middle of the autocratic-democratic continuum that makes them more prone to the outbreak of civil war. There is, however, insufficient clarity as to whether this risk is associated with the process of regime transitions or with specific politicalinstitutional characteristics of these regimes. We develop a model of the transition process and empirically test hypotheses from this model against the data that form the backbone of our empirical understanding of the curvilinear relationship, the POLITY data.

The puzzle we face has two interwoven components. That is, there are two paths to anocracy in the POLITY data; one is as a stable condition reflecting institutionalized regime characteristics; the other by transitioning into or through the anocratic category. Most studies do not account for the differing effects of this data-generating process (an exception is Hegre et al. 2001); therefore, we face a daunting task of understanding adequately the role of regime characteristics on civil war onset. We articulate a theoretical model of the transition process and test hypotheses from that model against the POLITY data. Briefly, our results demonstrate that there are specific aspects of transitions into anocracy that help explain the high risk of civil war among this set of states. A transition from democracy into anocracy significantly increases the risk of civil war, while a similar transition up from autocracy into anocracy has little discernible impact on the likelihood of civil war.

Much like the early democratic peace arguments, the anocratic instability arguments are a result of uncovering an empirical regularity that exists in the data. We extend beyond the empirically driven results to incorporate an explanation that helps describe the data-generation process. This work contributes to a growing debate about political instability and the process of democratic development (e.g., Gates et al. 2006; Epstein et al. 2006) and how these processes influence the likelihood of organized armed rebellion against a state.

What Makes an Anocracy an Anocracy?

Despite the frequent use of the term anocracy, there is little clarity about what an anocratic state really is. Most studies of regime type and civil war use POLITY scores to operationally define anocracy, with the cutoff generally falling between and including -5 and +5 on the POLITY scale (Fearon and Laitin 2003; Marshall and Gurr 2003). This range of scores on the POLITY index represents countries that vary on many elements of democratic institutions, but not enough to make them democratic, to countries with primarily autocratic regime characteristics, albeit with some institutional openness. …

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