Elite Defection Under Autocracy: Evidence from Russia

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Authors Ora John Reuter, David Szakonyi
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Elite cohesion is one of the fundamental pillars of authoritarian regime stability. Defections from the ruling coalition can signal regime weakness, embolden the opposition, and, sometimes, lead to regime collapse. Using a unique dataset on 4,313 regional legislative candidates from Russia's ruling party, United Russia, this paper examines the determinants of elite defections in one prominent electoral autocracy. We believe this to be the first study to use quantitative, micro-level data to test hypotheses about the integrity of elite coalitions under autocracy. Our theoretical framework predicts that elites will be more likely to defect when there is increased uncertainty about the willingness and/or ability of the regime to provide electoral benefits, spoils, and career advancement. Regimes that limit points of access to spoils, share power with the opposition, and lack strong formal institutions see higher rates of defection. While opposition co-optation may help the regime assuage threats from outside the regime, it may also leave regime insiders disgruntled and prone to defect. Finally, elites with personal followings and private business connections are most likely to defect, since they are better equipped to pursue their political goals independently of the regime. This result suggests that allowing elites to accumulate autonomous resources can undermine an authoritarian regime's hold on power.
Date of publication 2019
Code Programming Language R

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