Oil Wealth and Regime Survival in the Developing World, 1960–1999


  • Thanks to Jason Brownlee, Scott Desposato, Allen Hicken, Terry Karl, Joel Migdal, Bryon Moraski, Bryan Ritchie, David Waldner, Erik Wibbels, participants at the 2002 Workshop of the Society for Comparative Research in Budapest, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on previous versions of this article.

Benjamin Smith is an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University, 1033 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (bsmith@wcfia.harvard.edu) and beginning August 2004, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117325 Anderson Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325 (bensmith@polisci.ufl.edu).


This article examines contrasting claims made by scholars of oil and politics that oil wealth either tends (1) to undermine regime durability or (2) to enhance it. Using cross-sectional time-series data from 107 developing states between 1960 and 1999, I test the effects of oil wealth on regime failure, political protests, and civil war. I find that oil wealth is robustly associated with increased regime durability, even when controlling for repression, and with lower likelihoods of civil war and antistate protest. I also find that neither the boom nor bust periods exerted any significant effect on regime durability in the states most dependent on exports, even while those states saw more protests during the bust. In short, oil wealth has generally increased the durability of regimes, and repression does not account for this effect. Future research focused on the origins of robust coalitions in oil-rich states is most likely to provide fruitful explanations to this puzzle.