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Recapturing Regime Type in International Relations: Leaders, Institutions, and Agency Space

  • Susan D. Hyde and Elizabeth N. Saunders


A wave of recent research challenges the role of regime type in international relations. One striking takeaway is that democratic and autocratic leaders can often achieve similar levels of domestic constraint, which in many issue areas results in similar international outcomes—leading many to question traditional views of democracies as distinctive in their international relations. In this review essay, we use recent contributions in the field to build what we call a “malleable constraints” framework, in which all governments have an institutionally defined default level of domestic audience constraint that is generally higher in democracies, but leaders maintain some agency within these institutions and can strategically increase their exposure to or insulation from this constraint. Using this framework, we argue that regime type is still a crucial differentiator in international affairs even if, as recent studies suggest, democratic and autocratic leaders can sometimes be similarly constrained by domestic audiences and thus achieve similar international outcomes. This framework helps reconcile many competing claims in recent scholarship, including the puzzle of why autocracies do not strategically increase domestic audience constraint more often. Just because autocracies can engage audience constraints and democracies can escape them does not mean that they can do so with equal ease, frequency, or risk.



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Recapturing Regime Type in International Relations: Leaders, Institutions, and Agency Space

  • Susan D. Hyde and Elizabeth N. Saunders


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