Skip to main content
No Access

Strength in Expectation: Elections, Economic Performance, and Authoritarian Breakdown

How do elections and the economy affect authoritarian survival? Distinguishing among (a) nonelection periods in autocracies that do not hold competitive elections, (b) election periods in autocracies that hold regular elections, and (c) nonelection periods in such autocracies, I argue that bad economic performance makes authoritarian regimes especially likely to break down in election years, but the anticipation of competitive elections should dissuade citizens and elites from engaging in antiregime behavior in nonelection periods, bolstering short-term survival. Thus, compared to regimes that do not hold competitive elections, electoral autocracies should be more vulnerable to bad economic performance in election periods but more resilient to it in nonelection years. A study of 258 authoritarian regimes between 1948 and 2011 confirms these expectations. I also find that the effect is driven by competitive elections for the executive office, and elections-related breakdowns are more likely to result in democratization.