Coup d'état or Coup d'Autocracy? How coups impact democratization, 1950-20081

Clayton L. Thyne, Jonathan M. Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


This paper considers how coups impact democratization. Current research focuses on coups as a threat to consolidated and fledgling democracies. Policymakers have adapted to this viewpoint by treating coups as unjustifiable maneuvers that must be curtailed, with states frequently terminating aid and IOs suspending membership following a coup. While coups clearly confound democratic consolidation, it is notable that the vast majority of coups do not happen in democracies. Therefore, we focus on authoritarian regimes in seeking to discover how coups might open paths toward democratization. We first argue that successful coups should promote democratization because leaders have incentives to democratize quickly in order to establish political legitimacy and economic growth. Second, we view failed coups as credible signals that leaders must enact meaningful reforms to remain in power. Empirical analyses strongly support the argument that coups promote democratization, particularly among states that are least likely to democratize otherwise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-213
Number of pages22
JournalForeign Policy Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 International Studies Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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