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Polity Size and the Institutionalization of Leadership Succession

Abstract

Why is leadership succession highly institutionalized in some polities but not in others? We propose that the size of the polity constitutes a key explanatory factor. Specifically, we argue that an institutionalized process of succession is more likely to be adopted in larger polities because there are more elite actors vying for power, making it difficult for a single actor to consolidate power, hold it indefinitely, and pass it on to his heirs. To test this argument, we construct a global index centering on observable features of leadership succession. The index, drawing on data from the Archigos project, covers most sovereign countries from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. A battery of cross-national tests shows a positive and robust association between polity size and the institutionalization of leadership succession.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Huang (2008: 80–81).

  2. 2.

    The correlation coefficients (Pearson’s r) between our index (described below) and measures of democracy such as Polity2 (Marshall et al. 2014), LIED (Skaaning et al. 2015), and Polyarchy (Teorell et al. 2019) range from 0.61 to 0.62.

  3. 3.

    Standard errors are much larger and the relationship between size and leader institutionalization insignificant at conventional levels when adding country-fixed-effects to our benchmark. This is despite the coefficient being substantially larger in size than in the benchmark.

  4. 4.

    Variations in this GMM model—e.g., to controls included or number of lags used for instrumentation—do not affect the main result. The only exceptions we detected relate to altering the variables treated as endogenous, as, e.g., the model treating only population as endogenous returns a statistically insignificant result. However, the coefficient remains high (0.17), and the Sargan p value of 0.09 suggests that this specification may not satisfy the exclusion restriction.

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Gerring, J., Knutsen, C.H. Polity Size and the Institutionalization of Leadership Succession. St Comp Int Dev 54, 451–472 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-019-09286-1

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Keywords

  • Institutionalization
  • Leader succession
  • Democracy
  • Elites
  • Demography