Popular Dictators: The Attitudinal Roots of Electoral Authoritarianism


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Shifts in mass sentiments can seal the fate of dictatorships, as witnessed by the collapse of Communism, the color revolutions in East Europe and the Arab Spring. But does popular opinion also play a key role in the establishment of authoritarian regimes? This dissertation argues that electoral autocracies – the most persistent type of non-democracy today – are established in the wake of acute crises that have delegitimized mainstream political alternatives. In such contexts, authoritarian leaders with records of effective response to popular demands for stabilization establish reputational advantages over their opponents, securing long-term electoral dominance. Fears of renewed instability, in turn, deter voters from supporting oppositions, allowing even poorly performing electoral autocracies to endure.