Inequality and democracy are far more compatible empirically than social conflict theory predicts. This article speaks to this puzzle, identifying the scope conditions under which democratization induces greater redistribution. Because autocrats sometimes have incentives to expropriate economic elites, who lack reliable institutions to protect their rights, elites may prefer democracy to autocratic rule if they can impose roadblocks to redistribution under democracy ex ante. Using global panel data (1972–2008), this study finds that there is a relationship between democracy and redistribution only if elites are politically weak during a transition; for example, when there is revolutionary pressure. Redistribution is also greater if a democratic regime can avoid adopting and operating under a constitution written by outgoing elites and instead create a new constitution that redefines the political game. This finding holds across three different measures of redistribution and instrumental variables estimation. This article also documents the ways in which elites ‘bias’ democratic institutions.
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