Regime types and regime change: A new dataset on democracy, coups, and political institutions


Social scientists have created a variety of datasets in recent years that quantify political regimes, but these often provide little data on phases of regime transitions. Our aim is to contribute to filling this gap, by providing an update and expansion of the Democracy-Dictatorship data by Cheibub et al. (Public Choice, 143, 67–101, 2010), originally introduced by Alvarez et al. (Studies in Comparative International Development, 31(2), 3–36, 1996), where we add the following three features: First, we expand coverage to a total of 192 sovereign countries and 16 currently self-governing territories between 1950 and 2018, including periods under colonial rule for more than ninety entities. Second, we provide more institutional details that are deemed of importance in the relevant literature. Third, we include a new, self-created indicator of successful and failed coups d’état, which is currently the most complete of its kind. We further illustrate the usefulness of the new dataset by documenting the importance of political institutions under colonial rule for democratic development after independence, making use of our much more detailed data on colonial institutions. Findings indicate that more participatory colonial institutions have a positive and lasting effect for democratic development after transition to independence.

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Fig. 1


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    The data can be downloaded under the following link:

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    It should be noted that this definition implies that we code countries as autocratic if the incumbent regime either cancels or postpones scheduled elections. The exception is the rare cases in which an emergency occurs before an election, and where the constitution explicitly allows postponing the elections.

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    The number of references is counted in the Scopus and Web of Science databases as of December 2018, and is approaching 1800 references in Google Scholar.

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    Cheibub et al. (2010) discuss the problem of assessing whether the Botswana is democratic, as it has not changed government since 1966. It should be noted that by coding democracy prior to independence, we partly resolve the Botswana problem in the original DD data. The coding rule in Cheibub et al., as well as here, is that a country must have changed government through an election in order to be coded as democratic. While Botswana has not done so since 1966, the 1965 election that brought Seretse Khama to power both was democratic and resulted in a change of government. Khama was certainly not the preferred candidate of the British colonial authorities.

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    More pertinently, Rhodesia – the predecessor state of modern Zimbabwe – was democratic until 1962 according to our coding rules. Rhodesia is thus an example of a country that was democratic for at least part of its colonial period.

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    A particularly valuable magazine turned out to be the Caribbean Quarterly from which we have drawn information on numerable institutional details.

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    The Cook Islands and Niue are also technically sovereign nations, but share citizenship and head of state with New Zealand. Although we include it in the data, as both Cheibub et al. (2010) and Boix et al. (2013), we note that Nauru, despite being a member of the United Nations, is effectively a client state of Australia. We do not count disputed states such as, e.g., South Ossetia and Northern Cyprus, or colonies and overseas territories that are not evidently self-governing.

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    In this case, the name of the president given is the one with the comparatively longest tenure phase.

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    We found a number of cases in which existing databases reported a failed coup that we were unable to verify. Conversely, all successful coups were verified by reference to Lexis-Nexis. In almost all cases, the coups were reported in the New York Times, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, London Times, the Guardian and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Having access to Australian newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Post also allowed a wider coverage of smaller states in the Pacific and South East Asia. The Los Angeles Times likewise proved a particularly valuable source for events in Latin America.

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    We note that MacGowan (2006) in some cases counts several coups within days of each other. In these cases, we consider these attempts as elements of a single event, which is the primary reason why our database does not include years with more than three separable coups.

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    In a very early contribution, this nowadays well-established result was already anticipated by Emerson (1960).

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    We do not estimate a conditional fixed effects models so as not to filter out the comparative effect of colonies/independent countries that have always been democratic. Similarly, we include decadal fixed effects instead of annual time fixed effects, as the regime transitions in this group of countries is so evenly spread across time that many transitions will be uniquely identified by the inclusion of annual fixed effects.


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We thank Greta Piktozyte for excellent research assistance, Andrew Blick and the House of Lords Information Office for kind assistance with the data, and Roger Congleton, Tommy Krieger, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper.

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Correspondence to Christian Bjørnskov or Martin Rode.

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Bjørnskov, C., Rode, M. Regime types and regime change: A new dataset on democracy, coups, and political institutions. Rev Int Organ 15, 531–551 (2020).

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  • Political regimes
  • Regime transitions
  • Measurement; colonialism

JEL codes

  • C82
  • F54
  • N40
  • P16
  • P50
  • Y1