Economic Development, Violent Leader Removal, and Democratization


  • Michael K. Miller is Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University, Haydon-Allen 1206A, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia (

  • Thanks for helpful comments to Carles Boix, Grigore Pop-Eleches, Christine Percheski, Jeff Colgan, Joseph Carnes, Will Bullock, Sarah Bush, Daniel Treisman, Editor Wilson, three anonymous reviewers, and the participants at Midwest 2011 and seminars at Princeton University, New York University, Claremont Graduate University, and Australian National University. Replication data and supporting information can be found at


This article argues that autocratic regime strength plays a critical mediating role in the link between economic development and democracy. Looking at 167 countries from 1875 to 2004, I find that development strengthens autocratic regimes, as indicated by a reduced likelihood of violent leader removal. Simultaneously, greater development predicts democratization, but only if a violent turnover has occurred in the recent past. Hence, development can cause democratization, but only in distinctive periods of regime vulnerability. Although development’s stabilizing and democratizing forces roughly balance out within autocracies, they reinforce each other within democracies, resolving the puzzle of why economic development has a stronger effect on democratic stability than on democratization. Further, the theory extends to any variable that predicts violent leader removal and democracy following such violence, pointing to broad unexplored patterns of democratic development.