Electoral Responsiveness in Closed Autocracies: Evidence from Petitions in the former German Democratic Republic

Electoral Responsiveness in Closed Autocracies: Evidence from Petitions in the former German Democratic Republic

By Hans Lueders, Stanford University

Contested elections are usually seen as precondition for constituent responsiveness. By contrast, I show that even uncontested elections can create incentives for autocratic regimes to address citizen demands. I propose that closed autocracies engage in cycles of responsiveness before uncontested elections to assure citizens of their competence and raise popular support. They do so to mitigate the short-term destabilizing effects of elections. Analyzing a unique dataset of petitions to the government of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), I calculate that response times to petitions were up to 31% shorter before the GDR’s uncontested elections. Moreover, I introduce the concept of “substantive responsiveness,” which focuses on the material consequences of responsiveness for petitioners, and show that petitions were 64% more likely to be successful. The paper advances our understanding of electoral mobilization in closed regimes and contributes to an emerging research agenda on responsiveness and accountability in autocracies.

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