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Measuring Varieties of Autocracy

Fri, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Union Square, Golden Gate 4


Reliable and valid indicators on regime characteristics of autocracies are difficult to find. In authoritarian settings, factual data – for example election results – tend to be manipulated. Furthermore, many contemporary autocracies install de-jure democratic institutions but undermine their de-facto effectiveness. Therefore, researchers increasingly turn to expert-coded data sets as basis for their empirical analysis of autocracies. In doing so, they face three sets of interrelated measurement choices: How to delineate the authoritarian regime spectrum, and how to measure types and traits of authoritarian regimes. However, such choices often lack theoretical underpinning and a thorough discussion of the consequences of such choices for research outcomes. This paper reviews and compares indicators of autocracy commonly used in comparative research and shows how the new Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) data set can be used to gauge nuances in the authoritarian regime spectrum. In particular, we propose a new typology of authoritarian regimes based on the competitiveness of access to power using V-Dem data. We compare our operationalization of closed, hegemonic and competitive autocracies to earlier approaches. The paper concludes with an outline of what additional data we need in order to capture the full breath of authoritarian regimes.