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Safeguarding Democracy: Powersharing and Democratic Survival



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.


Corresponding author

Benjamin A.T. Graham is Assistant Professor, School of International Relations, University of Southern California, 3518 Trousdale Pkwy, VKC 330, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (
Michael K. Miller is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, George Washington University, Monroe 440, 2115 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20052 (
Kaare W. Strøm is Distinguished Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr. #0521, La Jolla, CA 92093 (


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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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