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Authoritarian Reversals and Democratic Consolidation


I present a new empirical approach to the study of democratic consolidation. This approach leads to new insights into the determinants of democratic consolidation that cannot be obtained with existing techniques. I distinguish between democracies that survive because they are consolidated and those democracies that are not consolidated but survive because of some favorable circumstances. As a result, I can identify the determinants of two related yet distinct processes: the likelihood that a democracy consolidates, and the timing of authoritarian reversals in democracies that are not consolidated. I find that the level of economic development, type of democratic executive, and type of authoritarian past determine whether a democracy consolidates, but have no effect on the timing of reversals in democracies that are not consolidated. That risk is only associated with economic recessions. I also find that existing studies greatly underestimate the risk of early reversals while simultaneously overestimating the risk of late reversals, and that a large number of existing democracies are in fact consolidated.

Corresponding author
Milan Svolik is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Address: 361 Lincoln Hall, 702 South Wright Street, Urbana IL 61801 (
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American Political Science Review
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