Democratization dynamics in ethnically divided societies

GSEM Professor Jérémy Lucchetti, Dominc Rohner, and Mathias Thoenig co-authored an article published in the top-tier Journal of the European Economic Association. It explores democratic transitions in societies with ethnic tensions. They propose a model where ethnic groups negotiate economic surplus allocation, and mobilization is based on unobserved ethnic attachment strength. The paper emphasizes the informational dividend provided by free and fair elections, which can improve inter-ethnic bargaining efficiency and reduce conflict. Empirical evidence supports the researchers' framework, showing that democratization can increase ethnic favoritism, especially in majoritarian regimes. However, genuine democratic transitions do not always result in power alternation. The authors also delve into theoretical extensions, including alternative information collection methods and the dynamics of post-election conflict and democratization.


The authors received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation and the European Research Council.


Prevailing theories of democracy focus on class conflict. In contrast, we study democratic transition when ethnic tensions are more salient than the poor/rich divide, building a model where (i) ethnic groups negotiate about allocating the economic surplus and (ii) military and political mobilizations rest on the unobserved strength of ethnic attachment. Free and fair elections elicit information and restore inter-ethnic bargaining efficiency. Autocrats can rationally choose democratic transition, even if they risk losing power, as elections reduce the opposition’s informational rent. The predictions of our framework are consistent with novel country-level and ethnic group-level panel correlational evidence on democratization in the post-decolonization period.

Access the study: Ethnic conflict and the informational dividend of democracy

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May 23, 2024
  Institute of Economics and Econometrics
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