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Political Devolution and Resistance to Foreign Rule: A Natural Experiment


Do foreign occupiers face less resistance when they increase the level of native governing authority? Although this is a central question within the literature on foreign occupation and insurgency, it is difficult to answer because the relationship between resistance and political devolution is typically endogenous. To address this issue, we identify a natural experiment based on the locally arbitrary assignment of French municipalities into German or Vichy-governed zones during World War II. Using a regression discontinuity design, we conclude that devolving governing authority significantly lowered levels of resistance. We argue that this effect is driven by a process of political cooptation: domestic groups that were granted governing authority were less likely to engage in resistance activity, while violent resistance was heightened in regions dominated by groups excluded from the governing regime. This finding stands in contrast to work that primarily emphasizes structural factors or nationalist motivations for resistance.

Corresponding author
Jeremy Ferwerda. Ph.D. Candidate, MIT Department of Political Science (
Nicholas L. Miller. Ph.D. Candidate, MIT Department of Political Science ( Both authors contributed equally.
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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