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Coups and Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 August 2013


This study uses new data on coups d’état and elections to document a striking development: whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1991 installed durable rules, the majority of coups after that have been followed by competitive elections. The article argues that after the Cold War, international pressure influenced the consequences of coups. In the post-Cold War era, countries that were most dependent on Western aid were the first to embrace competitive elections after their coups. This theory also helps explain the pronounced decline in the number of coups since 1991. While the coup d’état has been (and still is) the single most important factor leading to the downfall of democratic governments, these findings indicate that the new generation of coups has been far less harmful for democracy than their historical predecessors.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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Department of Political Science, Yale University; Department of Political Science, University of Rochester (emails:, We thank participants at panels at the 2008 International Studies Association Annual Meeting, the 2008 Midwest Political Science Annual Meeting and the 2010 American Political Science Association Meeting for their feedback. We also thank participants at worskshops held at Yale University, the University of Rochester, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Columbia University, Princeton University, the London School of Economics and the University of Mannheim between 2009 and 2012 for comments and suggestions. We thank Page Fortna, Gary Cox and Jay Ulfelder for their comments on an earlier draft. Any remaining errors are ours alone. Data replication sets and online appendices are available at


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