Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Gaming Democracy: Elite Dominance during Transition and the Prospects for Redistribution


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.

Hide All

Department of Political Science, University of Chicago (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Washington (email: Research support was provided by the Hoover Institution, where Menaldo was a National Fellow in 2009–2010, and Stanford University's Center on Development, Democracy and the Rule of Law, where Albertus was a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2011–2012. Able research assistance was provided by Jennifer Noveck. Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the 2010 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting and at Georgetown University's CRITICS workshop. We thank Jim Fearon, Steve Haber, David Laitin, Margaret Levi, Paul Musgrave, Dan Slater, Milan Slovik and Joe Wright for helpful comments on earlier drafts. An online appendix for this article containing additional statistical analyses and a discussion of sources and methods is available at Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results in the article are available at

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Daron Acemoglu James Robinson . 2001. A Theory of Political Transitions. American Economic Review 91:938963.

Daron Acemoglu James Robinson . 2008. Persistence of Power, Elites, and Institutions. American Economic Review 98:267293.

George Avelino , David Brown Wendy Hunter . 2005. The Effects of Capital Mobility, Trade Openness, and Democracy on Social Spending in Latin America, 1980–1999. American Journal of Political Science 49:625641.

Thorsten Beck , George Clarke , Alberto Groff , Philip Keefer Patrick Walsh . 2001. The Database of Political Institutions. World Bank Economic Review 15:165176.

Carles Boix . 2003. Democracy and Redistribution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barry Eichengreen David Leblang . 2008. Democracy and Globalization. Economics & Politics 20:289334.

Kristian Gleditsch Michael Ward . 2006. Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization. International Organization 60:911933.

Philip Keefer . 2007. Clientelism, Credibility, and the Policy Choices of Young Democracies. American Journal of Political Science 51:804821.

Alessandro Lizzeri Nicola Persico . 2004. Why Did the Elites Extend the Suffrage? Quarterly Journal of Economics 119:707765.

Gabriel Negretto . 2006. Choosing How to Choose Presidents. Journal of Politics 68:421433.

Roberto Perotti . 1996. Growth, Income Distribution, and Democracy: What the Data Say. Journal of Economic Growth 1:149187.

Michael Ross . 2006. Is Democracy Good for the Poor? American Journal of Political Science 50:860874.

Kenneth Scheve David Stasavage . 2011. Democracy, War, and Wealth: Evidence from Two Centuries of Inheritance Taxation. American Political Science Review 106:81102.

Anita Snyder Gerald Kramer . 1988. Fairness, Self-interest, and the Politics of the Progressive Income Tax. Journal of Public Economics 36:197230.

John Stephens . 1979. The Transition from Capitalism to Socialism. London: Macmillan.

Jeffrey Winters . 2011. Oligarchy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Albertus Supplementary Material

 PDF (1.4 MB)
1.4 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 15
Total number of PDF views: 174 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 697 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.