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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.

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Keywords: ; autocratization; backsliding; emergency law; emergency powers; state of emergency

Appeared or available online: October 7, 2020

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