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Liberalizing Electoral Outcomes in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes


  • We are grateful to Michael Bailey, James Gibson, Ken Greene, Soo-Yeon Kim, Steven Levitsky, Evan Lieberman, Juan Linz, Andreas Schedler, Nicolas van de Walle, Lucan Way, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article, and to Ashley Goodrich-Mahoney, Wendy Ollinger, and Sara Beth Wallace for research assistance. Previous versions of this article were presented at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, November 2004, and the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., September 2005.

Marc Morjé Howard is assistant professor of government, Georgetown University, ICC 681, Washington, DC 20057 ( Philip G. Roessler is a Ph.D. candidate of government and politics, University of Maryland, 3140 Tydings Hall, College Park, MD 20742 (


In the wake of the third wave of democratization, competitive authoritarianism has emerged as a prominent regime type. These regimes feature regular, competitive elections between a government and an opposition, but the incumbent leader or party typically resorts to coercion, intimidation, and fraud to attempt to ensure electoral victory. Despite the incumbent's reliance on unfair practices to stay in power, such elections occasionally result in what we call a “liberalizing electoral outcome” (LEO), which often leads to a new government that is considerably less authoritarian than its predecessor. Using a “nested” research design that employs both cross-national statistical analysis and a case study of Kenya, we seek to explain how and why LEOs occur. Our findings highlight in particular the importance of the choices made by opposition elites to form a strategic coalition for the purpose of mounting a credible challenge to the ruling party or candidate in national elections.