The Structural Correlates of Democracy: A Closer Look

Let us take a closer look at each of the independent variables in a bivariate context. Here we are dealing only with descriptive statistics. The multivariate analyses presented above suggest that each of the structural variables under discussion might matter for regime outcomes, and also show that the magnitude of the variables’ effects change with the inclusion of other variables. Taking a step back and examining the bivariate relationships in the data, however, enables us to consider more carefully what the post-communist experience might contribute to thinking about the correlates of political regime type. It also sheds light on the performance of a number of post-communist polities, highlights the possible limitations of the four independent variables of interest for understanding trajectories of post-communist regime change, and raises questions for future research on the post-communist region.

Wealth and Democracy

The post-communist experience lends weight to economic theories of democracy, but perhaps less weight than one might expect. At 0.50, the correlation is positive and substantial but not overwhelming. Development matters but does not determine outcomes alone. Figure 1.1 presents the aggregate scatter plot with all observations. The figure illustrates the positive relationship. The cluster in the upper left portion of the figure poses a particularly obvious set of outliers. Those points represent

Economic development and democracy, aggregate for 1992-2012

Fig. 1.1 Economic development and democracy, aggregate for 1992-2012

Mongolia’s scores. Mongolia is one of the poorest countries in the region, but has nevertheless undergone dramatic, robust democratization.

In order to better identify cases, we may have a look at a scatter plot that presents data for a single year. Figure 1.2 shows data for 2012 alone, using country abbreviations to mark points. Data are missing in this year for Kosovo and Mongolia.

The underachievers are noteworthy. Many observers have been surprised to see how far Russia has gone in its reversion to autocracy. Russia was a partly open polity during the late 1980s and the 1990s, and there were good reasons to expect it to have avoided tumbling backwards. It is the home of a highly educated, largely urban population. Moscow and St. Petersburg are world-class cities. Even at its economic low in the early and mid-1990s, Russia was a middle-income country, and it has become an upper-middle income country since then. It was never naive to think that some form of democracy could have worked in Russia after the demise of the Soviet system. If economic development were political fate, Russia would have done much better. Instead, democratization failed spectacularly despite a fairly high level of economic modernity. As its GDP per capita has risen during the current century, moreover, Russia’s democracy scores have actually fallen.

Economic development and democracy, 2012

Fig. 1.2 Economic development and democracy, 2012

Russia is not alone. In the lower-right portions of the scatter plots we find several Eurasian countries. Observations that exceed a value of 9 on the independent variable in Fig. 1.1 consist of Armenia 2007-2012, Azerbaijan 2011-2012, Belarus 2006-2012, Kazakhstan 2006-2012, and Russia 2009-2012. Figure 1.2, which is based on data for 2012 alone, makes for a better visual, and each country is also found in the lower-right portion of that scatter plot. Each of these countries has done worse in terms of democratization than one would have predicted given its level of development.

If we move away from our data and go outside the post-communist region, we find many other exceptions to the rule about development and democracy. The post-communist region is not exceptional in having outliers that defy expectations. Ghana and Indonesia, like Mongolia, overachieve in democracy for their level of development. How have they managed to achieve and sustain open politics at relatively low levels of income? Singapore and Saudi Arabia, like Russia, underachieve. Why have they failed to democratize despite prosperity? The post-communist region provides a broad spectrum of values on both the dependent variable (political regime) and the independent variable (here, level of development), and there are numerous important outliers. As such, the region’s experience might help scholars plumb an important research question: When is a low level of development not an insuperable obstacle to democratization (as it has not been in Mongolia), and when is it clearly insufficient to promote democratization (as in Russia)?

Despite the richness of the literature on regime change, we still do not have good answers to that question. We might note that the realm of civil society in Mongolia is unusually rich and dense, and has been such since the early 1990s, while the opposite obtains in Russia (Fish 1995,1998). Perhaps a muscular civil society that is capable of constraining state power and organizing and articulating popular demands may abet robust democratization. Countries that manage to generate strong civil societies even prior to thoroughgoing industrialization may sometimes be able to overcome the disadvantages of economic underdevelopment for democracy (Lussier 2016; Lussier and Fish 2012). Measuring the strength of civil society and analyzing it in a broad cross-national framework is challenging, but consideration of the possible link between the strength of civil society and democratization in poor countries is worthy of close consideration, and the post-communist experience adds a host of useful data to the global mix.

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