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Title: The Origins of Opposition: Elections, Identity, and Order in the Middle East
Authors: Tavana, Daniel L.
Advisors: Jamal, Amaney
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Authoritarianism
Ethnic identity
Middle East
Political Behavior
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Why do strong oppositions emerge in some autocracies, but not others? Foundational scholarship on electoral authoritarianism has shown that autocrats use elections to limit opposition through the cooptation of rivals, monitoring of citizens, and distribution of patronage. But in many cases across autocracies, oppositions succeed in these same elections. This dissertation presents and tests a theory that explains this variation through a detailed analysis of electoral politics in Kuwait. I advance a novel theory of endogenous opposition that focuses on the effect of repeated, strategic interactions between candidates and voters in elections. By analyzing the electoral districts in which these interactions take place, the dissertation uncovers the microfoundations of opposition success. Repeated elections in autocracies--often seen as a mechanism of authoritarian control--can lay the foundations of successful oppositional challenge. To explain variation in opposition strength, I argue that district-level social structure shapes the electoral strategies candidates pursue to win elections. Autocrats target candidates who can deliver the greatest number of votes in support of the regime, favoring large, dominant groups. In contrast, candidates representing minority groups must resort to "ideological accommodation," or the instrumental use of ideological labels and appeals to capture a larger number of out-group voters and compete effectively with candidates representing large, dominant groups. Once in the legislature, legislators who use these ideological appeals are more likely to oppose the autocrat. While many observers claim the persistence of autocracy in the Middle East renders undemocratic elections unlikely pathways for citizen-driven change, original data on electoral and legislator behavior from Kuwait suggests otherwise. The theory I propose bridges the disconnect between how scholars tend to think about elections, and how voters and candidates actually participate in them. Though nearly every autocrat takes measures to prevent such an outcome, many legislatures become sites of contention between regime allies and rival oppositional elites. Often, the exclusionary nature of these institutions sows the very seeds of opposition autocrats seek so desperately to prevent. These findings challenge existing conceptions of electoral and authoritarian politics. In diverse autocracies where identity is politically salient, meaningful opposition can emerge endogenously from repeated elections. Opposition arises not because incumbent autocrats need it, but because the patterning of groups across electoral districts encourages smaller groups to accommodate ideological alternatives. This argument suggests that unfair elections do not mechanically manifest the providence of dictators who hold them. Authoritarian elections may not always facilitate democratic representation, but this does not mean they are incapable of generating powerful challenges to the vagaries of authoritarian rule.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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