Skip to main content

Autocratic Breakdown and Regime Transitions: A New Data Set

  • Barbara Geddes, Joseph Wright and Erica Frantz

When the leader of an autocratic regime loses power, one of three things happens. The incumbent leadership group is replaced by democratically elected leaders. Someone from the incumbent leadership group replaces him, and the regime persists. Or the incumbent leadership group loses control to a different group that replaces it with a new autocracy. Much scholarship exists on the first kind of transition, but little on transitions from one autocracy to another, though they make up about half of all regime changes. We introduce a new data set that facilitates the investigation of all three kinds of transition. It provides transition information for the 280 autocratic regimes in existence from 1946 to 2010. The data identify how regimes exit power, how much violence occurs during transitions, and whether the regimes that precede and succeed them are autocratic. We explain the data set and show how it differs from currently available data. The new data identify autocratic regime breakdowns regardless of whether the country democratizes, which makes possible the investigation of why the ouster of dictators sometimes leads to democracy but often does not, and many other questions. We present a number of examples to highlight how the new data can be used to explore questions about why dictators start wars and why autocratic breakdown sometimes results in the establishment of a new autocratic regime rather than democratization. We discuss the implications of these findings for the Arab Spring.

Hide All
Brownlee, Jason. 2009. “Portents of Pluralism: How Hybrid Regimes Affect Democratic Transitions.” American Journal of Political Science 53(3): 515–32.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Smith, Alastair. 2009. “Political Survival and Endogenous Institutional Change.” Comparative Political Studies 42(2): 167–97.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Smith, Alastair. 2010. “Leader Survival, Revolutions, and the Nature of Government Finance.” American Journal of Political Science 54(4): 936–50.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Smith, Alastair, Siverson, Randolph, and Morrow, James. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Cheibub, José Antonio, Gandhi, Jennifer, and Vreeland, James Raymond. 2010a. “Democracy and Dictatorship Data Set.”
Cheibub, José Antonio, Gandhi, Jennifer, and Vreeland, James Raymond. 2010b. “Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited.” Public Choice 143(1-2): 67101.
Chenoweth, Erica, and Stephan, Maria J.. 2008. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33(1): 744.
Chiozza, Giacomo, and Goemans, Hein. 2011. Leaders and International Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Cox, Gary. 2010. “Authoritarian Elections and Leadership Succession, 1975–2000.” Manuscript, University of California, San Diego.
Debs, Alexandre. 2011. “Living by the Sword and Dying by the Sword? Leadership Transitions In and Out of Dictatorships.” Manuscript, Yale University.
Debs, Alexandre, and Goemans, Hein. 2010. “Regime Type, the Fate of Leaders and War.” American Political Science Review 104(3): 430–46.
Escribà-Folch, Abel. 2013. “Repression, Political Threats, and Survival under Autocracy.” International Political Science Review 34(5): 543–60.
Frantz, Erica, and Ezrow, Natasha. 2011. The Politics of Dictatorship: Institutions and Outcomes in Authoritarian Regimes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Geddes, Barbara. 1999. “What Do We Know about Democratization after Twenty Years?Annual Review of Political Science 2: 115–44.
Geddes, Barbara. 2003. Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Geddes, Barbara, Wright, Joseph G. and Frantz, Erica. 2012. “Authoritarian Regimes Data Set.” (
Gleditsch, Kristian, and Choung, Jinhee. 2004. “Autocratic Transitions and Democratization.” Presented at the 45th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, Montreal, Canada March 17–20.
Goemans, Hein. 2000. “Fighting for Survival: The Fate of Leaders and the Duration of War.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 44(5): 555–79.
Goemans, Hein, Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Chiozza, Giacomo. 2009. “Introducing Archigos: A Dataset of Political Leaders.” Journal of Peace Research 46(2): 269–83.
Hadenius, Axel, and Teorell, Jan. 2007. “Pathways from Authoritarianism.” Journal of Democracy 18(1): 143–56.
Hadenius, Axel, Teorell, Jan, and Wahman, Michael. 2012. “Authoritarian Regimes Data Set.” version 5.0.
Haggard, Stephan, and Kaufman, Robert R.. 2012. “Inequality and Regime Change: Democratic Transitions and the Stability of Democratic Rule.” American Political Science Review 106(3): 495516.
Haggard, Stephan, Kaufman, Robert R., and Teo, Terence. 2012. “Distributive Conflict and Regime Change: A Qualitative Dataset.”, version 1.
Janowitz, Morris. 1977. Military Institutions and Coercion in the Developing Nations. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Levitsky, Steven, and Way, Lucan. 2010. Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Menaldo, Victor. 2012. “The Middle East and North Africa’s Resilient Monarchs.” Journal of Politics 74(3): 707–22.
Nordlinger, Eric. 1977. Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1973. Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics. Berkeley, CA: Institute for International Studies.
O’Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe, and Whitehead, Laurence, eds. 1986. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, 4 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Pickering, Jeffrey, and Peceny, Mark. 2006. “Forging Democracy at Gunpoint.” International Studies Quarterly 50(3): 539–60.
Polity IV. 2010. “Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2010.”
Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael, Antonio Cheibub, Jose, and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quiroz Flores, Alejandro. 2012. “A Competing Risks Model of War Termination and Leader Change.” International Studies Quarterly 56(4): 809–19.
Remmer, Karen. 1991. Military Rule in Latin America. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Roeder, Philip G. 1993. Red Sunset: The Failure of Soviet Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Roller, Edeltraud. 2013. “Comparing the Performance of Autocracies: Issues in Measuring Types of Autocratic Regimes and Performance.” Contemporary Politics 19(1): 3554.
Schedler, Andreas. 2012. “Judgment and Measurement in Political Science.” Perspectives on Politics 10(1): 2136.
Sharma, Gopal, and Chalmers, John. 2012. “Feuding Politicians Take Nepal to the Brink of Ruin.” Reuters (November 11). (, accessed May 11, 2013.
Shirk, Susan. 1993. The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Smith, Benjamin. 2004. “Oil Wealth and Regime Survival in the Developing World: 1960–1999.” American Journal of Political Science 48(2): 232–46.
Stepan, Alfred. 1971. The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Svolik, Milan. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ulfelder, Jay. 2005. “Contentious Collective Action and the Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes.” International Political Science Review 26(3): 311–34.
Wahman, Michael, Teorell, Jan, and Hadenius, Axel. 2013. “Authoritarian Regime Types Revisited: Updated Data in Comparative Perspective.” Contemporary Politics 19(1): 1934.
Way, Lucan. 2011. “The Lessons of 1989.” Journal of Democracy 22(4): 1727.
Weeks, Jessica L. 2012. “Strongmen and Straw Men: Authoritarian Regimes and the Initiation of International Conflict.” American Political Science Review 106(2): 326–47.
Weyland, Kurt. 2013. “The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?Perspectives on Politics 10(4): 917–34.
Wilson, Matthew Charles. n.d. “A Discreet Critique of Discrete Regime Type Data.” Comparative Political Studies doi: 10.1177/0010414013488546.
Wright, Joseph G. 2008. “Do Authoritarian Political Institutions Constrain? How Legislatures Affect Economic Growth and Investment.” American Journal of Political Science 52(2): 322–43.
Wright, Joseph G., and Escribà-Folch, Abel. 2012. “Authoritarian Institutions and Regime Survival: Transitions to Democracy and Subsequent Authoritarian Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 42(2): 283309.
Recommend this journal

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

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Geddes supplementary material
Geddes supplementary material

 PDF (761 KB)
761 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 281
Total number of PDF views: 2575 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 8616 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st April 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.