Over the last decade, political institutions in dictatorships have been one of the most researched topics in the field of comparative politics. This book project explores how autocrats institutionalize elections and what consequences those elections have on the economy and political order in authoritarian regimes.
More specifically, the book project argues that dictators face a dilemma when institutionalizing elections: manipulated elections lose some of the useful informational benefits dictators could enjoy at the ballot box, but excessively transparent elections make it difficult for them to “win big” in elections. With this electoral dilemma in mind, the book proceeds to argue that when the dictator has the capability of mobilizing public support through economic distribution, he is less likely to resort to electoral manipulation like blatant electoral fraud and the adoption of electoral systems with high disproportionality. And when the autocrat fails to deal with the electoral dilemma, autocratic elections backfire in the form of popular protests and leadership turnover. The theory of autocratic elections developed in the book is tested on novel cross-national datasets on autocratic elections and economic policy; various illustrations from autocracies around the globe; and structured, in-depth comparative case studies of Central Asian countries based on eight months of fieldwork.