Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Although most authoritarian regimes nowadays hold competitive elections, the actual level of competitiveness of these elections varies greatly: while some autocrats win (or cheat) by comfortable margins, others must work hard in order to win, and a few step down following an electoral defeat. The three papers that compose this dissertation investigate how economic conditions, subnational elections, player's expectations about the future and their capacity to formulate credible commitments affect the competitiveness of authoritarian elections.

The first paper of the dissertation examines the origins of ruling party defections and opposition coalitions in authoritarian elections. Using a formal model, I show that (a) defections and coalitions depend on the interaction between players' electoral strength and their capacity to make credible commitments; and (b) defections from the ruling party increase the opposition's incentives to behave opportunistically, thus making coalitions less likely. I support this claim with an analysis of executive elections in authoritarian regimes between 1980 and 2014.

The second paper of the dissertation studies how the economy and elections affect authoritarian survival. In regimes that do not hold competitive elections, the government will be vulnerable to coups or protests whenever economic conditions are sufficiently bad. When elections are held regularly, on the other hand, there is a trade-off: Since elections make it easier to coordinate against the government, these regimes should be especially vulnerable to bad economic conditions in election years; at the same time, the anticipation of future elections will dissuade protests and coups in no-election periods, making the regime more resilient to short-term economic conditions. I examine this claim on a panel of 214 authoritarian regimes between 1952 and 2012.

The last paper of the dissertation investigates whether subnational elections can contribute to the development of opposition parties from the bottom up. I argue that opposition parties can use subnational governments as “springboards” from which to increase their electoral support in neighboring districts in future elections, i.e. opposition parties should do better in municipality m at time t if they already captured some of m's neighbors at t-1. Using data from municipal elections in Mexico between 1984 and 2000, I find evidence of such diffusion effects for the PAN, though not for the PRD.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Brian F. Crisp

Committee Members

Jacob Montgomery, Sunita Parikh, Guillermo Rosas, Alberto Simpser


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/doi:10.7936/K7RR1WN9