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Inequality and Regime Change: Democratic Transitions and the Stability of Democratic Rule


Recent work by Carles Boix and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson has focused on the role of inequality and distributive conflict in transitions to and from democratic rule. We assess these claims through causal process observation, using an original qualitative dataset on democratic transitions and reversions during the “third wave” from 1980 to 2000. We show that distributive conflict, a key causal mechanism in these theories, is present in just over half of all transition cases. Against theoretical expectations, a substantial number of these transitions occur in countries with high levels of inequality. Less than a third of all reversions are driven by distributive conflicts between elites and masses. We suggest a variety of alternative causal pathways to both transitions and reversions.

Corresponding author
Stephan Haggard is Lawrence and Sallye Krause Distinguished Professor, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093 (
Robert R. Kaufman is Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, 89 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 (
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