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Autocratization by Decree: States of Emergency and Democratic Decline

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States of emergency grant chief executives the power to bypass democratic constraints in order to combat existential threats. As such, they are ideal tools to erode democratic institutions while maintaining the illusion of constitutional legitimacy. Therefore, states of emergency should be associated with a heightened risk of autocratization – a decline in a regime's democratic attributes. Despite this theoretical link and the contemporary relevance of both autocratization and states of emergency, no prior study has empirically tested this relationship. This article tests this relationship using data on sixty democracies for 1974 to 2016. We find that democracies are 75 percent more likely to erode under a state of emergency. This evidence strongly suggests that states of emergency circumvent democratic processes in ways that might promote democratic decline.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2021

This article was made available online on October 7, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Autocratization by Decree: States of Emergency and Democratic Decline".

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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