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Democratic Backsliding

Conference contribution
Authors Ellen Lust
Hans Lueders
Published in 6 September, San Francisco, CA
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Subject categories Political Science


Rupture and Reform: The Case of Slippery Concepts and Muddled Measurements in the Study of Regime Change This paper draws scholarly attention to the problems of conceptualizing and measuring regime change and argues that these problems are a major reason why existing studies fail to draw compelling, consistent conclusions that foster cumulative knowledge. First, it reviews existing studies and finds that although a great deal of attention is paid to defining and distinguishing regime types in the theoretical literature, regime change remains under-theorized, its operationalization is often ill-defined, and measures employed in large-n quantitative studies of regime change are only loosely related to the outcome of interest. Second, the paper analyzes existing indicators of regime change, distinguishing between large-scale instances of rupture (breakdown and transition) and smaller-scale instances of reform (backsliding and liberalization). Despite a high correlation between indicators of regime type, agreement between indicators of regime change is disturbingly low. Moreover, focal points drive agreement among these indicators. The presence of an election increases the likelihood that indicators agree on a transition or liberalization event, while coups increase agreement of the backsliding and breakdown measures. This suggests that such events, rather than regime change per se, are strongly affecting the extent to which existing indicators converge. Finally, the paper demonstrates that indicator choice strongly influences the results obtained in quantitative studies. Findings are often not robust to the use of alternative dependent variables, drawing into question the validity of existing findings. The paper makes several important contributions. First, it emphasizes the need to define, conceptualize, and measure regime change more rigorously. Second, it argues that studies of regime change need to ensure congruence between theoretical arguments and indicators. Finally, it encourages scholars to study different forms of regime change and treat them as distinct phenomena.

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