Transparency, Protest, and Autocratic Instability

Transparency, Protest, and Autocratic Instability

By James R. Hollyer, University of Minnesota, B. Peter Rosendorff, New York University and James Raymond Vreeland, Georgetown University

The collapse of autocratic regimes is often brought about through large-scale mobilization and collective action by elements of the populace. The willingness of any given member of the public to participate in actions such as strikes and protests is contingent upon her beliefs about others’ willingness to similarly mobilize. In this article, we examine the effect of a specific form of transparency—the disclosure of economic data by the government—on citizen belief formation, and consequently on collective mobilization. We present a theoretical model in which, under autocratic rule, transparency increases the frequency of protests, and increases the extent to which protest is correlated with incumbent performance. We find empirical support for these claims. Transparency destabilizes autocracies via mass protest.

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