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Do Democracies Make Inferior Counterinsurgents? Reassessing Democracy's Impact on War Outcomes and Duration

  • Jason Lyall (a1)

A core proposition from decades of research on internal wars asserts that democracies, with their casualty-averse publics, accountable leaders, and free media, are uniquely prone to losing counterinsurgency (COIN) wars. Yet one should question this finding, for two reasons. First, existing studies overwhelmingly adopt no-variance research designs that only examine democracies, leaving them unable to assess their performance relative to autocracies. Second, these studies do not control for confounding factors that bias causal estimates. Democracies, for example, typically fight wars of choice as external occupiers, while most autocracies face homegrown insurgencies, a function in part of divergent levels of state capacity possessed by democratic and autocratic combatants. This study corrects for both problems using a new dataset of insurgencies (1800–2005) and matching to test whether democracies experience significantly higher rates of defeat and shorter wars. No relationship between democracy and war outcomes or duration is found once regime type is varied and inferential threats are addressed.

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