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Keywords:

  • authoritarianism;
  • conceptual stretching;
  • democracy;
  • elections;
  • hybrid regimes

This article challenges the use of diminished subtypes as a strategy for avoiding conceptual stretching in the conceptual construction of hybrid regimes. The popular adoption of this strategy is based on its perceived ability to increase analytical differentiation and, more relevantly, avoid conceptual stretching by making a more modest claim about the extent of authoritarianism and democracy. Using this strategy, regimes are classified according to any additional or missing properties they contain vis-à-vis these two root concepts. This is demonstrated by an influential body of scholarship using elections as the defining property (e.g., ‘competitive authoritarianism’ and ‘pseudodemocracy’). The problem, however, is that the creation of these subtypes is premised on a ‘true’ democratic definition of elections: a method for selecting and empowering political representatives through a competition for people's votes (albeit without freedom and fairness). This article argues that in attempting to avoid stretching the meaning of authoritarianism and democracy, scholars have inadvertently displaced concept stretching by assuming that the meaning of democratic elections is applicable to hybrid regimes. Instead, it is proposed that elections in hybrid regimes can have at least three alternatives roles: legitimation, patronage and elite management. This article concludes by discussing the implications of this finding for the field of comparative studies and proposes three solutions to help guard against conceptual stretching in the future.