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Coup d’état or Coup d'Autocracy? How Coups Impact Democratization, 1950–2008

Clayton L. Thyne, Jonathan M. Powell
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fpa.12046 192-213 First published online: 2 February 2016


This paper considers how coups impact democratization. Current research focuses on coups as a threat to consolidated and fledgling democracies. Policymakers have adapted to this viewpoint by treating coups as unjustifiable maneuvers that must be curtailed, with states frequently terminating aid and IOs suspending membership following a coup. While coups clearly confound democratic consolidation, it is notable that the vast majority of coups do not happen in democracies. Therefore, we focus on authoritarian regimes in seeking to discover how coups might open paths toward democratization. We first argue that successful coups should promote democratization because leaders have incentives to democratize quickly in order to establish political legitimacy and economic growth. Second, we view failed coups as credible signals that leaders must enact meaningful reforms to remain in power. Empirical analyses strongly support the argument that coups promote democratization, particularly among states that are least likely to democratize otherwise.

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