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Political Institutions and Constrained Response to Economic Sanctions


  • Author’s note: The author would like to thank Chris Zorn, Dan Reiter, Kyle Saunders, Amy Yuen, and the anonymous reviewers for their roles in improving and supporting this project. Any remaining errors are my own.


Institutional constraints within the target state not only influence a leader’s ability to resist economic sanctions, but they also affect the decision-making process within the target state and the nature of information that a sender can ascertain about likely response. Autocratic leaders, who are less constrained, send noisier signals about their probable behavior. This lack of constraint also allows more freedom to resist sanctions, as they can shunt the costs of sanctions off onto the general public, who have little influence over policy outcomes or leadership retention. Democratic leaders are more constrained and more susceptible to sanctions pressure. As result, there is less uncertainty for senders about probable response. Using a heteroskedastic probit model to explore potential systematic components of the variation surrounding sanctions response, the impact of sanctions is shown to differ by regime type—both in the response to coercion as well as in the variance surrounding that response. The results presented here suggest that as expected, democracies are more susceptible to sanctions pressure, but the response of mixed and authoritarian systems are more difficult to predict. These findings have implications for the design of future sanctions policy as well as suggesting which states make the best targets for economic coercion.