Why do economic crises sometimes lead to democratic breakdown and sometimes not? To answer this question, we bring in a new conditioning factor. We propose that bureaucracies of higher quality – implying more competent, efficient and autonomous employees – to a greater extent shield the masses from impoverishment and unjust distribution of resources. This dampens anti-regime mass mobilization, which decreases elite incentives and opportunities for toppling the democratic regime. Statistical analyses of democracies globally from 1903 to 2010 corroborate that the impact of economic crises on the risk of democratic breakdown is suppressed when democracies have a bureaucracy of higher quality. The results are robust to alternative model specifications, including a battery of ‘good governance’ indicators. The effect of bureaucratic quality is not driven by bureaucracies’ ability to hinder crisis onset or shorten crisis duration but rather their ability to decrease domestic upheavals during crises.