Theses Doctoral

Democratic Institutions under Autocracy

York, Erin

This dissertation is about the function of borrowed democratic institutions in autocratic contexts, theorized to provide an arena of limited political competition between the regime and political outsiders. Despite existing explanations for how such institutions benefit the autocrat, there is much that remains unknown about their function in practice. I explore how the regime and opposition manipulate institutional features to their benefit in three papers. In the first, I show that systems of executive oversight create opportunities for the opposition to serve constituents and increase their support base. In the second, I find evidence that regime control over executive appointments is used to limit effectiveness of that opposition activity. In the third, I find that the regime's authorities over the legislature create distributional distortions in its favor -- but that other coalition members can also benefit. I address these topics using empirical analysis of novel data sources gathered during extensive fieldwork in Morocco, as well as theoretical modeling of institutional characteristics. Autocratic regimes are notorious for their opacity, and previous research has been limited by data accessibility; for the research presented here, I collect and analyze a vast database of legislative actions using techniques in webscraping and text analysis in order to obtain a more systematic understanding of legislative behavior and executive response. The results provide insight into how autocratic institutions -- superficially similar to democratic analogues -- operate differently in practice.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Ting, Michael M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 1, 2020