Carrie Coberly is a Ph.D. candidate in politics at the University of Virginia, where she studies party development in transitional democracies and electoral authoritarian regimes. She recently completed field research in Armenia (immediately prior to protests that led to Armenia’s first real transfer of power) and the Kyrgyz Republic. Her secondary research interests focus on the interaction of state capacity and political development and the domestic politics of Iran. A former American diplomat and Congressional aide, Carrie holds an M.A. in Russian and Eurasian studies from Harvard University and completed her undergraduate degree in government at Cornell University. She has been selected as a Carnegie International Policy Scholar for 2018-19.
State Capacity and the Origins of Authoritarian Party Systems
Why do party systems in electoral authoritarian regimes vary? Some electoral authoritarian systems govern through a dominant party that controls a super-majority of votes and faces a fractionalized opposition. Other ruling parties control smaller majorities and face more unified oppositions. Existing research shows that regimes with smaller ruling parties and more unified oppositions are more likely to collapse, but has not examined why these different types of party systems emerge in the first place. I argue that the fractionalization of an authoritarian party system depends on that state’s infrastructural power. At lower levels of state capacity, authoritarian regimes manage elites through clientelism or corruption, which encourages elites to either join the dictator’s ruling party (should one exist) or form a large number of small parties. As state infrastructural power increases, bargaining over policy becomes a viable option. Under those conditions, elites have an incentive to form larger and more stable political parties, leading to a more consolidated loyal opposition and smaller ruling party. After establishing the overall correlation between state capacity and party system fractionalization in electoral authoritarian regimes, my dissertation will test the causal nature of the relationship by evaluating the mechanism that elites find dictators’ policy commitments more credible in countries with higher infrastructural power.