Essays on the Political Economy of Democratization and Democratic Backsliding
This four-paper dissertation addresses three fundamental questions in the political economy of democracy. First, does economic development cause democratization? Second, to what extent are citizens willing to defend democracy after it has been established, but is then threatened from within by an anti-democratic state executive? Third, what influence has the recent episode of democratic backsliding within the United States had on America’s soft power abroad?
In the first paper, I provide a new theory of the relationship between economic development and democracy. I argue that a large share of employment in manufacturing (i.e., industrialization) makes mass mobilization both more likely to occur and more costly to suppress. This increases the power of the masses vis-à-vis autocratic elites, making democracy more likely. Using novel manufacturing employment data for 145 countries over 170 years (1845–2015), I find that industrialization is strongly correlated with democracy, even after accounting for country and time fixed effects, time trends, theoretically grounded controls, and other economic determinants of democracy (e.g., income and inequality). Unlike with other economic determinants, the effect occurs on both democratic transitions and consolidations, and is equally large after 1945. Importantly, the data suggests that many potential outliers (e.g., China, the USSR, and Latin America during import substitution industrialization) have in fact never reached the level of industrialization that existed in the West, South Korea, and Taiwan before democratization.
In the second paper, I exploit a unique quasi-experiment in 19th- and early 20th-century Norway to test whether the correlation between manufacturing employment and democracy is causal. Using novel roll-call data from the Norwegian national parliament, I study whether MPs that represented more rapidly industrializing districts were more likely to vote for suffrage extensions over the 1891 to 1906 period. For causal identification, I exploit the fact that Norwegian districts with a greater geographical potential for hydropower generation were significantly more likely to industrialize after the nationwide introduction of hydroelectricity in 1892. In line with the first paper, I find that industrialization tended to induce democratization in Norway.
In the third paper, I turn to the contemporary period and study whether politicians who clearly violate democratic norms lose significant public support, or whether voters tend to form little constraint on democratic backsliding. To examine this fundamental question, I study a novel natural experiment created by the fact that Donald Trump’s incitement of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol unexpectedly occurred while Gallup was conducting a nationally representative public opinion survey using random digit dialing. Comparing party identification among respondents who happened to be interviewed just before, and just after, January 6, 2021, suggests that the Republican Party retained 78% of its pre-insurrection support base during the first 1.5 weeks after the January 6 insurrection. Even this modest loss was only short-lived---in February 2021 the Republican Party already stood at 93% of its pre-insurrection support level.
In the last paper, I examine the consequences of democratic backsliding within the United States on America’s standing abroad. To do so, I exploit the fact that the January 6 insurrection unexpectedly occurred while Gallup was conducting nationally representative surveys in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Romania, and Vietnam using random digit dialing. In contrast to many soft power theories in international relations, I find that the January 6 insurrection had no effect on U.S. leadership approval abroad.