Why Waves

Downloadable paper: WhyWaves? Global Patterns of Democratization, 1820–2008


Marianne Dahl, Scott Gates, Håvard Hegre, and Håvard Strand (2013). Why Waves? Global Patterns of Democratization, 1820–2008. Typescript, PRIO.


Using a refined measure of democracy and of political system change we find substantial support for Samuel Huntington’s (1991) thesis of democratic waves. Democratic transitions do tend to cluster in time and space. After demonstrating that political transitions follow a global wave pattern, we explain why they occur in waves. A main contribution is to show that previously formulated explanations of waves must be seen in conjunction with the intrinsic internal stability of political systems. Waves typically occur when external factors simultaneously impact the systems of multiple countries, and the systems of these countries are out of equilibrium. Reformulating and expanding Huntington’s thesis, we hypothesize that a combination of the `stickiness’ of certain institutional configurations, the influence of neighboring countries, and shocks to the interstate system such as the world wars are the main explanation of waves, in combination with the slow but certain impact of economic development. Using multinomial logit analyses of political transitions, we find considerable support for these hypotheses.

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