Structural Explanations for Regime Outcomes


What does the post-communist experience tell us about the conditions that promote or inhibit democratization? Here I examine four of the structural conditions that have long been at the center of analyses on the determinants of political regime around the world: level of economic development, economic dependence on hydrocarbons, geographical location, and religious tradition. Countries in the region exhibit wide variation on each of these variables.

The observations in the analysis are country years for all 30 postcommunist countries. The years covered are 1992 to 2012, which is the last year for which the data are available. countries are added to the dataset as they become independent. Thus, data begin for Slovakia in 1993, for Montenegro in 2006, and for Kosovo in 2008.

The dependent variable is level of democracy. It is measured using the “Electoral Democracy Index” recently released by the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, which furnishes data on a multitude of political variables for most countries in the world on a yearly basis between 1900 and 2012 (V-Dem 2016). The values of the dependent variable range from 0 to 1.

The first independent variable is gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, which indicates level of economic development. Data for this variable are drawn from the V-Dem dataset. We would expect greater wealth to create more propitious conditions for open politics. Over the five decades since Seymour Martin Lipset offered his now-celebrated theory linking wealth to democracy, a host of studies have addressed the matter. Many of them have refined Lipset’s formulation and some have qualified it, but the bulk of studies find that countries that enjoy higher levels of economic development have better chances for having democracy (Lipset 1981; Diamond 1992).

The second independent variable is petroleum, natural gas, and coal production per capita, which indicates countries’ economic reliance on fuels. Data for this variable are also drawn from the V-Dem dataset. Numerous works in political science and economics have found a negative correlation between oil and open politics, suggesting that countries with economies based on fossil fuels face special challenges in democratization (Ross 2013; Fish 2005).

The third independent variable is the distance between a country’s capital city and Vienna, which represents countries’ proximity to the West. The literature on regime change includes works that present strong evidence for neighborhood diffusion effects in the realm of political regime. Geographical proximity to democracies may provide advantages for democratization, while location in a neighborhood full ofauthoritarian regimes might make democratization harder (Brinks and Coppedge 2006). In the post-communist region, nearness to what might be regarded as the world region that is friendliest to democracy, Western Europe, may be of particular importance (Kopstein and Reilly 2000). Distance from Vienna is as good a measure as any of proximity to Western Europe.

The fourth independent variable is the proportion ofa country’s population made up of adherents of the major religions. These data are taken from the Association of Religion Data Archives. Many analysts have regarded certain religious traditions as more likely than others to produce cultural and social norms that are conducive to democracy. Generally speaking, Western Christian traditions, meaning Catholicism and Protestantism, are seen as holding advantages, while Christian Orthodoxy is regarded as less favorable to democracy (Huntington 1991; Hofmann 2011). Islam is sometimes regarded as posing particularly difficult challenges, and some studies based on global cross-national data have shown that predominantly Muslim societies lag on democratization (Fish 2011). Adherents of all of these traditions are present in large numbers in the post-communist region. A fourth tradition, Buddhism, predominates in Mongolia.

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