Welcome to the Journal of Comparative Politics

Comparative Politics, an international journal presenting scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and processes, communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, students, and public and NGO officials. The journal is indispensable to experts in universities, research organizations, foundations, embassies, and policymaking agencies throughout the world.

Volume 48, Number 2, January 2016

Jens Rudbeck, Erica Mukherjee, and Kelly Nelson, When Autocratic Regimes Are Cheap and Play Dirty: The Transaction Costs of Repression in South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt

Why do autocratic regimes use paramilitary groups, death squads, vigilantes, gangs, and other types of irregular, non-state actors to suppress popular opposition movements? We argue that the use of this type of state repression is a way for political leaders to lower the transaction costs of repression. Contrary to the use of regular security forces, which may trigger a host of consequences ranging from international economic sanctions to strikes and boycotts, irregular non-state violence specialists constitute an alternative governance structure for repression that, potentially, is less costly to elites. To substantiate this argument, the article investigates the use of informal violence to suppress opposition movements in South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt. It demonstrates how repression was shaped by the transaction costs that political leaders were confronting.

Terrence Lyons, The Importance of Winning: Victorious Insurgent Groups and Authoritarian Politics

What is the relationship between how a war ends and the post-war political order? Civil wars that end in rebel victory follow distinct war-to-peace transitions compared to the more often analyzed cases of negotiated settlement and internationally supported peacebuilding. When one side wins, the victors shape the post-war political order, not the international community. In the cases of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, the insurgents used the war-to-peace transition to transform their military institutions into authoritarian political parties and to consolidate power. It is not surprising that the winning military party becomes the post-war ruling party, but it is less obvious why victorious insurgents so often become powerful authoritarian parties. This paper argues that the legacies of protracted civil war and the imperatives of the war-to-peace transitions following victory provide the mechanism that links victory by insurgents to the creation of strong authoritarian parties and will illustrate the argument with the cases of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Glen Biglaiser, Mandate and the Market: Policy Outcomes under the Left in Latin America

Over the past fifteen years, Latin America has seen a wave of leftist governments take office with some leaders increasing the state’s role in the economy, while others continue and even intensify market-oriented reforms. Building on the concept of mandates in the American politics literature, and supplemented by personal interviews conducted with Latin American policymakers and empirical work, I argue that whether leftist presidents implement policies away from the market depends on their margin of electoral victory combined with whether the president’s party holds a majority of seats in the legislature. As much American politics work shows, presidents that win elections by landslides are better able to claim a mandate. However, the capacity of presidents to convert massive victories into policy change also requires control of the legislature by the president’s party.

Katherine Bersch, The Merits of Problem-Solving over Powering: Governance Reforms in Brazil and Argentina

Scholars of governance reforms in developing countries often argue that the surest way to address corruption, cronyism, inefficiency, and red tape is swift, dramatic change enacted by political leaders during moments of upheaval (i.e., “powering” reforms). This research finds that a very different type of change is not only possible but also more effective and enduring. A comparison of attempts to increase accountability, transparency, and institutional strength in Brazil and Argentina demonstrates that incremental changes sequenced over time in response to failings in previous policy (i.e., “problem-solving” reforms) provide two crucial advantages over powering’s wholesale and rapid overhauls of the state: (1) continual adjustments and modifications benefit from learning; and (2) an incremental approach makes reform more durable and helps preserve bureaucratic autonomy.

Eric M. Uslaner and Bo Rothstein, The Historical Roots of Corruption: State Building, Economic Inequality, and Mass Education

We show a link between levels of mass education in 1870 and corruption levels in 2010 for seventy-eight countries that remains strong when controlling for change in the level of education, GDP/ capita, and democracy. A model for the causal mechanism between universal education and control of corruption is presented. Early introduction of universal education is linked to levels of economic equality and to efforts to increase state capacity. First, societies with more equal education gave citizens more opportunities and power for opposing corruption. Secondly, the need for increased state capacity was a strong motivation for the introduction of universal education in many countries. Strong states provided more education to their publics and such states were more common where economic disparities were initially smaller.

Jan H. Pierskalla, Splitting the Difference? The Politics of District Creation in Indonesia

What explains the patterns of local government proliferation in Indonesia? I argue that ethnic heterogeneity, paired with the political ability to lobby for boundary changes, explains territorial reform. Using data on Indonesian district splits from 2001 to 2012 and information at the district and sub-district levels, I provide evidence in support of these propositions. To further trace the logic of district splitting, the paper draws on census data, as well as information on local violent conflict, to show that newly created districts have higher levels of ethnic homogeneity and experience less political violence. These findings provide new and important insights to existing debates on optimal federalism and the emerging literature on the politics of administrative unit proliferation.

Fabrice Lehoucq, Review Essay, Does Nonviolence Work?

Chenoweth and Stephan’s award-winning book, Why Civil Resistance Works, boldly claims that political protest is more successful than armed conflict. This finding is novel in its design and innovative in its defense. This essay, however, suggests that civil disobedience fails just as often as violence in toppling authoritarian regimes. Moreover, my review of several important books on political protest, autocracy, and regime change concludes that the choices made by dictators shape whether the opposition remains peaceful or becomes violent. Deepening our understanding of democratization requires integrating the analysis of the nature and impact of political protest with the study of regimes, their dynamics, and how and when they split.

Volume 48, Number 1, October 2015

Mark Beissinger, Amaney A. Jamal, and Kevin Mazur, Explaining Divergent Revolutionary Coalitions: Regime Strategies and the Structuring of Participation in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions

This study seeks to explain why the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions mobilized different constituencies. Using original survey data, we establish that while participants in both revolutions prioritized economic concerns and corruption over civil and political freedoms, Tunisian revolutionaries were significantly younger and more diverse in class composition than the predominantly middle-aged and middle-class participants in the Egyptian Revolution. Tunisian revolutionaries were also less likely to be members of civil society associations and more likely to rely on the internet as their source of information during the revolution. We explain these differences by reference to disparate incumbent regime strategies for coping with similar structural pressures for state contraction and political reform, which created different patterns of societal grievance and opposition mobilizing structures in their wake.

Isabela Mares and Boliang Zhu, The Production of Electoral Intimidation: Economic and Political Incentives

This article presents an account of the conditions under which politicians engage in the production of electoral intimidation, by enlisting support from state employees and private actors. We characterize the political and economic factors that influence the cost-benefit calculations of these actors and their decisions to engage in the systematic harassment of voters. Empirically, our article examines the political and economic determinants of electoral irregularities in German elections during the period between 1870 and 1912. The most salient economic variable that affects the decision of private actors to engage in the electoral intimidation of voters is the occupational heterogeneity of a district. Other economic conditions in a district have no systematic effect on the incidence of electoral intimidation. We also find that political factors such as the level of electoral competition, strength of the political opposition, and the fragmentation among right parties affect the incidence of electoral irregularities.

Olukunle P. Owolabi, Literacy and Democracy despite Slavery: Forced Settlement and Postcolonial Outcomes in the Developing World

This article explores the developmental consequences of forced settlement colonization, based on the large-scale import of African slaves and/or Asian indentured laborers into newly settled territories. Paradoxically, forced settlement resulted in superior levels of educational attainment and postcolonial democracy than European domination over indigenous populations (i.e., colonial occupation) among countries and territories decolonized after 1945. This relationship is robust to statistical controls for British rule, European settlement, socio-economic development, ethnicity, religious composition, and geography. Investigating the role of Protestant missionaries and colonial legal institutions as possible causal mechanisms linking forced settlement to surprisingly favorable developmental outcomes, I find that directly ruled colonies that universalized metropolitan legal rights prior to World War II have performed better than colonies that maintained distinct “native codes” for indigenous populations.

Catherine Boone and Lydia Nyeme, Land Institutions and Political Ethnicity in Africa: Evidence from Tanzania

Existing work on land politics in Africa suggests that governments, by creating and upholding neocustomary land tenure regimes, create powerful incentives for individuals to embrace state-recognized ethnic identities. This article strengthens the argument about the institutional determinants of ethnicity’s high political salience through the use of contrasting evidence from Tanzania. In Tanzania, non-neocustomary land tenure institutions prevail, and the political salience of ethnic identity is low. Even in a hard-test region of high in-migration and high competition for farmland, the political salience of ethnic identity in land politics is low. The findings suggest that political science needs to take seriously the role of state institutions in producing politically-salient ethnic identities in Africa.

Alexander G. Kuo, Explaining Historical Employer Coordination: Evidence from Germany

What explains historical cross-national variation in the degree of employer coordination and related industrial institutions within advanced industrialized states? Explaining such variation is important because such outcomes are related to contemporary patterns in social policy and inequality. Recent literature emphasizes the historical importance of electoral systems for the development of such firm coordination. I present an alternative conceptualization of the outcome and a theory; existing theories cannot explain the important role of early coordinated institutions of repression among firms. I argue that the redistributive threat posed by workers explains the emergence of collective repression and that extreme threats induced collective collaboration with workers. Detailed historical evidence from the early twentieth century and the inter-war period in Germany is used to support the theory.

Riitta-Ilona Koivumaeki, Evading the Constraints of Globalization: Oil and Gas Nationalization in Venezuela and Bolivia

Economic nationalism has returned to Latin America. This article examines what has allowed leaders to advance their nationalistic agendas and expropriate foreign investment, despite the institutional safeguards that investors have established. Case studies of Venezuelan and Bolivian hydrocarbon nationalization show that the deterrent power of the investment regime of the 1990s, institutionalized in bilateral investment treaties, is weakest precisely when it is most needed by investors. When a commodity boom increases profits in the sector, the host government is motivated to expropriate multinationals. Ironically, the price increase also enables governments to bear the treaties’ costs by accepting international arbitration and paying any resulting compensation. Using data from 130 in-depth interviews conducted in Venezuela and Bolivia, this article demonstrates the limits of the constraints of globalization.

Yonatan Morse, From Single-Party to Electoral Authoritarian Regimes: The Institutional Origins of Competitiveness in Post-Cold War Africa

Scholarship on authoritarianism has become concerned with variation in electoral authoritarian
outcomes, observed in terms of the competitiveness of elections. Simultaneously, there has been a growing focus on the role of authoritarian institutions, and especially political parties, in explaining authoritarian survival. This article links these two perspectives by focusing on the subset of formerly single-party regimes in Africa that transitioned to electoral authoritarianism. The article highlights differences in party institutionalization and patterns of social incorporation as key aspects that help explain the competitiveness of elections. Through typological theorizing, ten countries are compared along measures of party capacity, economic performance, opposition strength, and external actor pressure. The study aims to highlight variation in institutional development in African cases and to illuminate the underpinnings of electoral authoritarian regimes.

Volume 47, Number 4, July 2015

Bonnie M. Meguid, "Multi-Level Elections and Party Fortunes: The Electoral Impact of Decentralization in Western Europe"

Despite extensive research on decentralization, little is known about the electoral effects of these reforms on the governing parties that implement them and the ethnoterritorial parties that demand them. In contrast to much previous work, this article posits that decentralization is a strategy to bolster a governing party’s national vote, by appeasing voters of threatening regionalist parties. Statistical analyses of election results across subnational regions of Western European countries from 1970 to 2006 confirm this theory’s implications: governing parties gain and ethnoterritorial parties lose support in national elections after significant decentralization. Token decentralization fails to satisfy voters and leads to governing party vote loss in national elections. I also find that ethnoterritorial parties, but not governing parties, benefit electorally in subnational elections following extensive decentralization.

Patrick Emmenegger, "Maximizing Institutional Control: Union Power and Dismissal Protection in Western Europe in the First Half of the Twentieth Century"

During the first half of the 20th century, some of the strongest union movements failed to provide much protection against dismissal. This contrasts with countries with comparatively weak union movements, where workers benefitted from far-reaching statutory protection. This counterintuitive outcome can be explained by the unions’ interest in maximizing institutional control by regulating dismissal protection in collective agreements. Yet such pre-emptive regulation was only possible under unique circumstances: it required a strong trade union movement that could conclude collective agreements before the advent of employment contracts being regulated by statutory labor law. The regulation of dismissal protection by means of collective agreements had unintended consequences. As regulation progressed faster in statutory labor law, countries with weaker union movements soon obtained higher levels of dismissal protection.

Haifeng Huang, "Propaganda as Signaling"

Why do authoritarian governments engage in propaganda when citizens often know that their governments are propagandizing and therefore resist or ignore the messages? This article proposes that propaganda often is not used for indoctrination of pro-regime values and attitudes, as is traditionally understood, but rather to signal the government’s strength in maintaining social control and political order. Consistent with the theory, analysis of a unique dataset shows that Chinese college students with more exposure to state propaganda in the form of ideological and political education are not more satisfied with China’s government system, but are more likely to believe that the regime is strong in maintaining social control and less willing to participate in political dissent.

David T. Buckley, "Beyond the Secularism Trap: Religion, Political Institutions, and Democratic Commitments"

The often-tense relationship between religion and democracy can fuel a “secularism trap,” in which divisions among religious and secular actors threaten the viability of democracy itself. What explains why such divisions threaten in some cases, but not others? I argue that political institutions, in particular institutional ties between religion and state, account for this variation. One institutional type, which I term “benevolent secularism,” reduces the likelihood of the secularism trap even in least-likely cases. Institutions matter because they impact religious and secular elites in two distinct ways: shaping preferences within each bloc and promoting credible commitments to democracy between them. I trace the observable implications of this theory with evidence from two states that seemed likely candidates for the secularism trap: Ireland and Senegal.

Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme B. Robertson, "Information, Elections, and Political Change"

A growing literature in comparative politics focuses on the role of elections in authoritarian regimes. While most see elections as a tool of authoritarian control, some argue that they represent a vehicle for political liberalization. We demonstrate that authoritarian elections can be disruptive of authoritarian rule but that electoral disruption can lead to deliberalization as well as liberalization. We argue that this is because elections work as an information revelation mechanism, potentially throwing the ruling coalition into crisis, and resulting in either liberalization or authoritarian retrenchment. We test our theory using a new global dataset of liberalizations, deliberalizations, and elections and show that features of the information environment including media freedom, public opinion surveys, and international election observers shape the susceptibility of a country to political change by elections.

Christian Sorace, "The Communist Party’s Miracle? The Alchemy of Turning Post-Disaster Reconstruction into Great Leap Development"

The May 12th, 2008 Sichuan earthquake was a national trauma in China. The reconstruction provided the Party with an opportunity to display its care for the disaster victims and restore the Party’s shaken credibility and socialist legitimacy. Despite initial collective solidarity and firm control over the state apparatus, levers of the economy, and domestic media, the Party did not manage to secure broad public approval of its reconstruction effort in the earthquake zone. This article argues that the reasons for this failure can be traced to the Party’s political epistemology. The CCP’s general assumptions, governmental rationalities, policy calculations, implementation strategies, and legitimating discourses organized the reconstruction. It wanted to build a model of state power and benevolence, but it did not have the proper tools.

Volume 47, Number 3, April 2015

Lily L. Tsai, "Constructive Noncompliance"

Does widespread citizen noncompliance always delegitimize state authority and endanger regime stability? The evidence presented in this paper suggests that some noncompliance behaviors may actually be intended to communicate policy feedback and constructive criticism about the fit between policies and local conditions. In order to improve our understanding of these phenomena, the paper develops the concept of constructive noncompliance, situating it within a typology of political action and illustrating it empirically using original qualitative and quantitative data from the case of rural China. By distinguishing constructive noncompliance from other forms of resistance, this paper shows that not all forms of noncompliance indicate low legitimacy or state capacity and lays the foundation for examining how different types of political action may affect policy formation, government use of coercion, the political attitudes of citizens, and their propensity for future action.

William Genieys and Patrick Hassentuefel, "The Shaping of New State Elites: Healthcare Policymaking in France Since 1981"

This article seeks to combine methods in the sociology of elites with those in the analysis of public policy to understand changes in the French state. To explain the role of state elites we specify a concept of “programmatic elites” that combines analyses of political and administrative careers with actors’ policy frames. We present main dimensions of the concept and discuss various ways in which it overcomes some weaknesses of the positional, reputational, and decisional methods, as well as how it extends elite studies to analyses of what might be termed “the new custodians of the State.” By applying our concept to health policy since the early 1980s, we demonstrate the role of these elites in bringing about major changes in important policy domains.

David Rueda, "The State of the Welfare State:Unemployment, Labor Market Policy, and Inequality in the Age of Workfare"


This paper argues that, since the 1990s, the welfare state has been transformed into a workfare state. It proposes a stylized framework to understand the influence of unemployment on inequality and the effects of labor market policy. Using this framework, the paper shows that the transformation of the welfare state has made the effects of unemployment more inegalitarian. I analyze OECD data on inequality and redistribution from the mid-1970s to the late 2000s and provide preliminary but systematic regression results. They suggest that the generosity of labor market policy promoted higher levels of market income equality only during the traditional welfare period. They also suggest that the responsiveness of redistribution to unemployment has become weaker in the era of workfare.

Marcelo Camerlo and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, "The Politics of Minister Retention in Presidential Systems: Technocrats, Partisans, and Government Approval"

This article examines the impact of presidential approval and individual minister profiles on minister turnover. It claims that, in order to prioritize sustainable policy performance and cabinet loyalty, government chiefs protect and remove technocrats, partisans, and outsider ministers conditional on government approval. The study offers an operational definition of minister profiles that relies on fuzzy-set measures of technical expertise and political affiliation, and tests the hypotheses using survival analysis with an original dataset for the Argentine case (1983–2011). The findings show that popular presidents are likely to protect experts more than partisan ministers, but not outsiders.

Anders Themnér, "Former Military Networks and the Micro-Politics of Violence and Statebuilding in Liberia"

Recent studies have highlighted the inability of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs to dismantle command structures in the aftermath of civil war. The effect that lingering military networks have on peace is, however, ambiguous. A key question—which has so far been unanswered—is therefore why some ex-military networks are remobilized for violent purposes, while others are used for more productive ones, such as income-generating activities. In this article, I seek to address this question by comparing two former mid-level commanders (ex-MiLCs) in Liberia and the networks that they control. Based on this comparison I argue that it is ex-MiLCs who are shunned by governing elites as peacetime brokers of patronage—distributing economic resources to ex-fighters—that are most likely to remobilize their ex-combatant networks.

Dinsha Mistree, "Review Essay, Party-Directed Corruption in the Developing World"

This article questions the widely-held understanding that corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. By focusing on party-directed corruption, it becomes clear that actors who do not hold public office oftentimes facilitate corruption and that corruption is sometimes undertaken to advance prerogatives rather than personal interests. The author suggests an alternative understanding of corruption, as societally-undesirable actions involving public officials and other actors that would reduce a state’s legitimacy were they to become widely known. The author also discusses new methodologies for measuring corruption.

Volume 47, Number 2, January 2015

Tom Goodfellow, "Taming the 'Rogue' Sector: Studying State Effectiveness in Africa through Informal Transport Politics"

Despite widespread reference in international development discourses to the importance of “effective states,” the meaning of effectiveness is often unclear. This article presents a theoretical framework for analyzing state effectiveness and evaluates it through a comparative empirical study. Focusing on efforts to regulate and tax the lucrative informal urban transport sector, it maps out the landscape of institutions and political interests that underpinned remarkably effective outcomes in Rwanda and serial failure in Uganda in the decade 2000–2010. The article argues that the divergent outcomes are not so much a function of differing bureaucratic capacity as the interaction between factors such as the credibility of government policies, sources of legitimacy, and the role of “infrastructural power,” and how these are mediated through differences in political space.

Yen-Pin Su, "Anti-Government Protests in Democracies: A Test of Institutional Explanations"

This paper tests two institutional explanations for why some democratic countries have experienced more anti-government protests than others. The first explanation deals with certain political institutions as structural determinants that shape protest activities, and the second explanation considers opposition parties as agents of protest mobilization. Using a zero-inflated negative binomial regression applied to a global sample of 107 democratic countries from 1990 to 2004, the empirical analyses show that the second explanation works better. The results demonstrate that a larger opposition camp fosters more anti-government protests only if this opposition camp is more united. Moreover, the finding suggests that the mobilization capacity of opposition parties matters for anti-government protests in developing countries but not for those in developed countries.

Alexander Stroh and Charlotte Heyl, "Institutional Diffusion, Strategic Insurance, and the Creation of West African Constitutional Courts"

The creation of constitutional courts is a political affair because the judicial review of laws and competences potentially curbs the power of the elected branches. This paper seeks to explain the spread of constitutional courts and the extent of their formal independence. Our comparison of nine former French colonies in West Africa is built upon (a) the combination of the two competing theories of international diffusion and domestic strategic action—the political insurance model—and (b) a new, theoretically and arithmetically refined index of formal independence. The empirical analysis in this area of similar political context supports the argument that global trends and foreign reference models set a minimum standard and that interests in political insurance determine the deviations from institutional diffusion.

Carolyn M. Warner, Ramazan Kılınç, Christopher W. Hale, Adam B. Cohen, and Kathryn A. Johnson, "Religion and Public Goods Provision: Experimental and Interview Evidence from Catholicism and Islam in Europe"

Religions such as Catholicism and Islam are generators of substantial amounts of charitable donations and volunteer work, and they sustain themselves as organizations. How do they produce charitable public goods and their own religious club goods when they are open to extensive free-riding? We argue that mainstream religions facilitate club and public goods provision by using their community structures and theological belief systems to activate members’ prosocial tendencies. The study is based on experiments with over 800 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin and Istanbul and on semi-structured interviews with over 200 Catholics and Muslims in Dublin, Istanbul, Milan, and Paris. The article also demonstrates the methodological advantages of combining field experiments with case study-based interviews.

Christopher W. Hale, "Religious Institutions and Civic Engagement: A Test of Religion's Impact on Political Activism in Mexico"

How do religious institutions facilitate secular political activism? Existing literature suggests that mainstream religious organizations provide institutional resources and civic skills that facilitate collective action. However, the literature has generally overlooked the agency of individuals at the grassroots level who pay the costs associated with political activism. This study contends that lay political engagement is impacted by the extent to which the management of religious institutions is decentralized. I test my argument along with several theoretical alternatives using survey data collected from over 9,000 Mexican citizens by the National Survey of Political Culture and Citizen Practices (ENCUP). The results demonstrate that religious decentralization is positively associated with political activism in Mexico. Religious decentralization also interacts with the presence of progressive political theology to positively impact political activism.

Anna Persson and Bo Rothstein, "It's My Money: Why Big Government May Be Good Government"

This article explores why, quite contrary to what dominant theories of corruption predict, bigger governments tend to be less corrupt than smaller ones. The findings—derived from the combination of an in-depth interview study conducted in Uganda, a cross-country, quantitative analysis, and an illustrative case study of a prominent political scandal in Sweden—reveal the important role of taxation in explaining this puzzle. Where citizens pay few direct taxes, they are less likely to feel a sense of “ownership” of the state and are thus also less likely to punish corrupt behavior. In contrast, citizens that are more heavily taxed are likely to keep track of the use of “their” money and are thus also more likely to hold corrupt public officials accountable.