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Conference Proceeding

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Democratic transition scholars find a large number of factors associated with the likelihood of non-democratic regimes transitioning to democracy. Of these, three factors appear to be among the most potent: economic development, economic crisis, and the type of non-democratic regime (e.g. Geddes 1999, Brownlee 2009). However, another type of factor may matter as well - public approval of the regime. The chief limitation that prevents scholars from addressing this factor is the absence of data. However, we have access to the largest repository of international public opinion data that is comparable for all nations - the Gallup World Poll. The Gallup organization began the World Poll in 2005, and now has surveyed approximately 500,000 people in over 150 nations, with a sample intended to be representative of 95% of the world’s population. This allows us access to measures of regime approval, as well as other relevant variables, for most non-democratic nations during this time. Because five years has passed since the World Poll began, we can also consider the relationships between regime approval, levels of democratization, as well as democratic transition itself. We restrict our analysis to non-democratic nations and allow regime approval to predict democratization (the Polity IV score). We estimate a regression model in which the polity score change from 2005 to 2010 is the dependent variable, and regime approval predicts the change. We find that lower regimes approval leads to greater democratic transition. We include control variables for time, respondents’ demographic characteristics, and regime types. This study opens the black box of how mass politics affects democratic transition.


Paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Seattle, Washington.