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Safeguarding Democracy: Powersharing and Democratic Survival

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2017

University of Southern California
George Washington University
University of California at San Diego


Democracy is often fragile, especially in states recovering from civil conflict. To protect emerging democracies, many scholars and practitioners recommend political powersharing institutions, which aim to safeguard minority group interests. Yet there is little empirical research on whether powersharing promotes democratic survival, and some concern that it limits electoral accountability. To fill this gap, we differentiate between inclusive, dispersive, and constraining powersharing institutions and analyze their effects on democratic survival from 1975 to 2015 using a global dataset. We find sharp distinctions across types of powersharing and political context. Inclusive powersharing, such as ethnic quotas, promotes democratic survival only in post-conflict settings. In contrast, dispersive institutions such as federalism tend to destabilize post-conflict democracies. Only constraining powersharing consistently facilitates democratic survival regardless of recent conflict. Institution-builders and international organizations should therefore prioritize institutions that constrain leaders, including independent judiciaries, civilian control of the armed forces, and constitutional protections of individual and group rights.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2017 

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The authors would like to thank Scott Gates, Håvard Strand, Cesi Cruz, and Megan Becker for their work on the underlying data. We would also like to thank Anisha Chinwalla, Xinru Ma, Johanna Reyes, Jihyun Shin, and Patrick Vossler for research assistance. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (Grant No. SES-081950766b; PI: Strøm) and the Norwegian Research Council (196850/F10; PI: Gates). Finally, we are grateful to Clayton Thyne, James Lo, Yon Lupu, and to workshop participants at the Center for International Studies Working Paper Series at USC, MPSA 2015, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, as well as three anonymous reviewers and Editor Carey for comments on drafts of this article.


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