Expertise or Loyalty? Responsiveness in Authoritarian Institutions
What benefits do inclusive institutions have for authoritarian rulers? Previous research predominantly studied delegate behavior in authoritarian institutions but has been less well-equipped to assess government reactions to it. Analyzing the case of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conferences, I argue that an overlooked key benefit of inclusive institutions is their contribution to policy rationalization. Drawing on novel data spanning more than 9,000 policy suggestions submitted by delegates, their biographies, and the corresponding government responses, I illustrate that the regime values suggestions that signal expertise rather than those that display loyalty. While this is especially true for government departments of a more technical nature, I find no evidence suggesting that proposals highlighting grievances are responded to more favorably. These findings provide an important addition to our understanding of the role of authoritarian institutions in policy-making processes.

Why Do Authoritarian Parliaments Become Stronger?

A growing body of literature studies the personalization of power in authoritarian regimes. Yet, how institutions can become a credible constraint to dictatorial rule is less widely studied. I theorize that corruption is a key factor associated with strengthening legislatures in authoritarian regimes. By engaging in corruption, authoritarian elites in ruling coalitions can build up networks of support and influence and ultimately, use their elevated position to impel more legislative powers vis-à-vis the executive. Examining panel data on the strength of legislatures in authoritarian regimes between 1946 and 2010, I show empirically that authoritarian parliaments become stronger when levels of corruption in a given regime increase. More competitive electoral and legislative processes, however, do not uniformly affect parliaments’ strength. These findings contribute to our understanding of institutional changes in autocracies and highlight the centrality of elite contestations in determining institutional trajectories.
Economic, human development, and climate impacts of democracy(with Martin Lundstedt, Vanessa Boese-Schlosser, Natalia Natsika, Kelly Morrison, Yuko Sato, and Staffan I. Lindberg)
For generations, thinkers have debated whether democracy impacts socioeconomic outcomes. This question has become more relevant than ever since several authoritarian regimes claim superiority in delivering goods and services to citizens. The last decade’s impressive advances in data on political regimes along with vastly extended time series, progress in rigorous statistical modeling, and (quasi-) experimental techniques, have generated solid results identifying generalizable causal effects. Consequently, several strands of literature now demonstrate that being and/or becoming a democracy often has a substantial impact on economic prosperity, human development, and climate change mitigation. While other research focuses on technical solutions to improve economic outcomes, human development, and mitigation of climate change, we highlight that societies’ challenges are to a significant part dependent on countries’ political institutions.
The Democracy-Autocracy Divide in Party Systems: A New Measurement(with Fabio Angiolillo, Yuko Sato, and Staffan I. Lindberg)
Party systems can be split along a democratic-authoritarian cleavage in which some parties commit to democracy while others are decidedly anti-pluralist. This democracy-autocracy divide (DAD) differs from common left-right or traditional-libertarian scales as they primarily capture policy differences but not regime preferences. To apprehend this dimension of political division, we introduce a new empirical framework. Building on existing data on parties' ideology, we provide a new measurement able to define: (i) the intensity of the democracy-autocracy divide within and across party systems and (ii) whether ruling parties’ coalitions or oppositions drive the divide. This measurement allows us to track the development of the democracy-autocracy divide across time between 1970-2019 and space, covering 178 countries for 3,151 election-years. We implement well-established content, convergent, and discriminant validity tests to confirm the reliability of our measurement, along with an empirical application of the DAD's influence on autocratization.
Disinformation and Regime Survival(with Yuko Sato and Staffan I. Lindberg)
Disinformation has transformed into a global issue and while it is seen as a fundamental challenge to democracy, autocrats have long used it as part of their propaganda repertoire. Yet, no study has tested the effect of disinformation on regime breakdown or stability beyond country-specific studies. Drawing on novel measures from the Digital Society Project (DSP) estimating the levels of disinformation disseminated by governments across the globe between 2000-2021 and from the Episodes of Regime Transformation (ERT) dataset, we provide the first global comparative study linking disinformation to regime survival. We find that increasing levels of disinformation are associated with the decline of the quality of democracy. In authoritarian regimes, disinformation helps rulers to stay in power as regimes with higher levels of disinformation are less likely to experience democratization episodes. In democracies, on the other hand, disinformation increases the probability of autocratization onsets. As such, this study is the first to provide comparative evidence on the danger of disinformation on democracy as well as the prospects of democratization.
Micro-Level Explanations of Policy Innovation: Unpacking Local Government Officials’ Innovation Willingness in China(with Biao Huang and Xiaodie Wu)
Prompting officials’ innovation willingness is a prerequisite for processes of public sector innovation. This article constructs a framework explaining officials’ innovation willingness by linking environmental antecedents and path dependence. The empirical analysis, based on an original survey and interviews with officials in China, shows that they are more responsive to drivers within the bureaucratic system, i.e., top-down and horizontal drivers but less so to bottom-up drivers. Moreover, officials with previous innovation experience tend to have more innovation willingness but are less driven by top-down factors. This study advances the theory of innovation willingness generation.