Multiparty elections can reduce the likelihood of conflict and help dictators secure their rule, but when does a dictator create electoral institutions? Existing research finds that one of the major reasons regimes introduce multiparty elections is to gain information about opposition demands. This article builds on that argument to explain that a regime’s finances determine whether or not it is able to benefit from creating electoral institutions. Dictators use the revenue of the regime to invest in different means of deterring opposition rebellion. A regime’s first priority is to build repressive capacity, after which it invests in public spending to buy the support of its winning coalition. Regimes only benefit from multiparty elections when they have sufficient revenue to fund repressive capacity but lack the finances to also buy regime security through massive public spending. Low-revenue regimes cannot benefit from elections and high-revenue regimes do not need elections to help secure their rule. I test the implications of the argument for regime spending and the creation of multiparty electoral institutions using a global sample of dictatorships between 1972 and 2014. The results of the hypothesis tests indicate that as revenue increases regimes decrease their shares of spending on repressive capacity but increase shares of spending on the public. The results also indicate the probability that a regime introduces elections rises as revenue increases from a low level, but the probability declines as revenue increases from a high level. The study builds upon the literature for how regime resources and state capacity influence authoritarian strategies of political survival. The findings for spending patterns are consistent with recent research on late modern regimes, and the results for the emergence of electoral institutions are consistent with research that finds dictators must have sufficient resources to survive holding elections.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.