We study how economic crises relate to the likelihood of experiencing regime changes ‘from within’; that is, transitions brought about, in part or fully, by actors in the incumbent regime. While historically common and influencing the political trajectories of many countries, such processes are far less studied than regime transitions forced by non-incumbent actors, such as coups or revolutions. We synthesize previous arguments and further specify how crises can incentivize leaders to change the regime from within due to two mechanisms. First, crises create windows of opportunity for leaders to pursue transitions they inherently prefer, for instance through self-coup. Second, crises sometimes allow opposition actors to mobilize and threaten the regime, forcing incumbents to liberalize. We leverage new data on timing and mode of regime change for more than 2000 regimes from about 200 countries, during the period 1789–2018. Employing different measurement strategies, estimators, control variables and other specification choices, we find fairly robust evidence that economic crises are related to transitions from within. However, when we distinguish between liberalizing and non-liberalizing guided transitions, we only find that economic crises systematically relate to the latter, suggesting that the window of opportunity mechanism may be especially pertinent in many contexts.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.