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Ethnic Inequality and the Dismantling of Democracy: A Global Analysis

  • Christian Houle

Abstract

Does inequality between ethnic groups destabilize democracies? While the literature largely agrees that inequality harms democracies, previous studies typically focus on the overall level of inequality in a society, leaving unanswered questions about the effect of inequality between ethnic groups. This article fills this gap and argues that inequality between ethnic groups harms the consolidation of democracy but that its effect is strongest when inequality within groups is low. Using group- and country-level data from more than seventy-one democracies and 241 ethnic groups worldwide, the author conducts the first cross-national test to date of the effect of ethnic inequality on transitions away from democracy. Results provide support for the hypothesis: when within-ethnic-group inequality (WGI) is low, between-ethnic-group inequality (BGI) harms democracy, but when WGI is high, BGI has no discernable effect.

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* Winner of the 2014 Best Paper Award in comparative democratization presented at the American Political Science Association annual meeting, and of the 2012 Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for the best paper in comparative politics presented at the Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting. Earlier versions of this article were presented at Michigan State University, the Ohio State University, Florida State University, Arizona State University, the University of Montreal, Trinity College, Dublin, the Dublin City University, and the European Political Science Association. I gratefully acknowledge comments and suggestions from Chang Alex, Kenneth Benoit, William D. Berry, Cristina Bodea, Michael Bratton, Eric Chang, Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz, Alexandre Debs, Stanley Engerman, Mark Fey, Michael Gallagher, Guy Grossman, Gretchen Helmke, Timothy Hicks, John Huber, Koji Kagotani, Mark A. Kayser, Patrick Kuhn, G. Bingham Powell, Clionadh Raleigh, Ani Sarkissian, Randall Stone, Gunes Tezcur, Jeffrey Weber, and Dwayne Woods. Special thanks to Elizabeth Lane, Chunho Park, and Fangjin Ye for their outstanding research assistance; Carolyn Logan for giving me access to forthcoming Afrobarometer surveys on Burundi and Niger; and Philip Roessler for sharing data on the ethnicity of coup and rebellion leaders. All errors are mine.

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Ethnic Inequality and the Dismantling of Democracy: A Global Analysis

  • Christian Houle

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