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Transparency, Protest, and Autocratic Instability


The collapse of autocratic regimes is often brought about through large-scale mobilization and collective action by elements of the populace. The willingness of any given member of the public to participate in actions such as strikes and protests is contingent upon her beliefs about others’ willingness to similarly mobilize. In this article, we examine the effect of a specific form of transparency—the disclosure of economic data by the government—on citizen belief formation, and consequently on collective mobilization. We present a theoretical model in which, under autocratic rule, transparency increases the frequency of protests, and increases the extent to which protest is correlated with incumbent performance. We find empirical support for these claims. Transparency destabilizes autocracies via mass protest.

Corresponding author
James R. Hollyer is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota and Visiting Associate Research Fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Princeton University, 1414 Social Sciences Building, 267 19th Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (
B. Peter Rosendorff is Professor, Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University.
James Raymond Vreeland is Professor, School of Foreign Service, Department of Government, and Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University.
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