Department of Political Science

Revisiting democratic civil peace: Electoral regimes and civil conflict

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The debate on democratic civil peace has centered on three general claims: democracies have a low risk of civil conflict, autocracies have the same low risk of conflict as democracies, and hybrid regimes have the highest conflict risk. We reevaluate these claims, emphasizing that previous studies have focused on the aggregate categories of regimes, neglecting the role of particular institutional features. We propose focusing on the electoral qualities of regimes, which constitute the core of democracy, and argue that constraints on electoral contestation generate incentives for opposition to use force. Building on this framework, we distinguish between five regime types according to their electoral features—non-electoral autocracies, single-party autocracies, multi-party autocracies, minimalist democracies, and polyarchies—and specify hypotheses regarding the likelihood of conflict in each. In a global statistical analysis spanning 1817‒2006 and employing the new Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy (LIED), we find that polyarchies, characterized by unconstrained contestation, have a lower risk of conflict than any other regime type (although minimalist democracies are only slightly more prone to conflict). Subsequently, we find that single- and multi-party autocracies, characterized by non-competitive elections, are more peaceful than non-electoral autocracies. Our analysis also reveals two factors that have the most substantive effects on peace: the presence of (any form of) elections and minimal electoral competition. Overall, our study underscores the importance of focusing on the central attributes of democracy and sheds new light on the relationship between particular regime features (or types) and conflict, thereby contributing to the growing efforts in conflict research to disaggregate political regimes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Pages (from-to)625-640
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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