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Who Defects? Unpacking a Defection Cascade from Russia's Dominant Party 2008–12

  • HENRY E. HALE (a1) and TIMOTHY J. COLTON (a2)

Under what conditions do individuals withdraw support from dominant parties in nondemocratic regimes? Employing an original panel survey, we measure the same individuals’ support for Russia's dominant party first at the peak of its dominance in 2008 and again shortly after it suffered a cascading defection of regime supporters in 2011–12. This allows us uniquely to explore the microfoundations of theories of regime defection cascades, generally supporting the argument that they involve complex “informational” as well as “reputational” processes. Accordingly, we find that early and eager movers in such a cascade tend to come from less socially vulnerable segments of the population, to have greater need to rely on other people for interpreting events, to believe the regime has lower levels of popular support, and to come from more heterogeneous communities. We find little role for mass media (including social media) or democratizing zeal in driving Russia's regime defection cascade.

Corresponding author
Henry E. Hale (lead and corresponding author) is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University, 1957 E Street, NW, Suite 412, Washington, DC 20052 (
Timothy J. Colton is Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge St., Knafel Building 156, Cambridge, MA 02138 (
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The surveys on which this article is based were funded principally by the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research (NCEEER) under authority of two Title VIII grants from the U.S. government and supplemental funding by the latter. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and are not the responsibility of the U.S. government, the NCEEER, or any other person or entity. For comments on earlier drafts, the authors thank the journal's editors and anonymous reviewers, Ellen Carnaghan, Bruce Dickson, Thomas Remington, participants in the Political Economy Seminar of the Higher School of Economics and New Economic School in Moscow, and members of comparative politics workshops at Harvard University, George Washington University, and Cornell University.

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