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Transparency, Protest and Democratic Stability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2018


Democratic rule is maintained so long as all relevant actors in the political system comply with the institutional rules of the game – democratic institutions must be self-enforcing. We examine the role of transparency in supporting a democratic equilibrium. Transparency improves the functioning of elections: in transparent polities, elections more effectively resolve adverse selection problems between the public and their rulers. Transparency increases popular satisfaction with democracy and inhibits challenges to the democratic order. We provide a game-theoretic model, test these claims, and find they enjoy empirical support. Transparency is associated with a reduction in both the probability of democratic collapse and of the irregular removal of democratic leaders. Transparency stabilizes democratic rule.

© Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota (email:, Wilf Family Department of Politics, New York University (email:, Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University (email: We would like to thank Christina Bodea, José Fernández-Albertos, John Freeman, Erik Gartzke, Michael Laver, Adrienne LeBas, Sebastian Saiegh, David Samuels, David Stasavage and Scott Tyson and participants in the Leitner Political Economy Seminar at Yale University, the 2012 MPSA panel on Transparency, Monitoring and Democracy, the 2012 EPSA panel on Democratization, the 2013 MPSA panel on the Determinants of Transparency and Corruption, the 2013 Mini-IPE Conference at Georgetown University, the 2013 Alexander Hamilton Center Graduate Conference at NYU, the 2013 EPSA panel on Regime Authority, the Stanford University Methods Workshop, the 2013 APSA panel on Known Unknowns: Empirical Approaches to Uncertainty in International Relations, and the 2014 Stanford-Princeton Conference on Policy Uncertainty for helpful comments and suggestions. We also thank Vanessa Hofman for excellent research assistance. All remaining errors are our own. James Hollyer would also like to thank the Niehaus Center on Globalization and Governance and the Benjamin Evans Lippincott Foundation for research support. Data replication files are available in Harvard Davaverse at: as well as and online appendices are available at


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