Adam Przeworski, Michael Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi. “What Makes Democracies Endure?” Journal of Democracy 7 (January 1996), 39-55.
If a country, any randomly selected country, is to have a democratic regime next year, what conditions should be present in that country and around the world this year? The answer is: democracy, affluence, growth with moderate inflation, declining inequality, a favorable international climate, and parliamentary institutions.
The survival of democracies does depend on their institutional systems. Parliamentary regimes last longer than presidential ones. Majority-producing electoral institutions are conducive to the survival of presidential systems; presidential systems facing legislative deadlock are particularly brittle. Both systems are vulnerable to bad economic performance, but presidential democracies are less likely to survive even when the economy grows than are parliamentary systems when the economy declines. Evidence indicate that parliamentary democracy survives longer and under a broader spectrum of conditions than presidential democracy.
There is no evidence that democracies are "consolidated" over time or that at any level of development the mere passage of time makes the demise of democracies less likely. The drop in hazard rates observed over time (uncorrected for the level of development) could just be the result of countries developing economically.
Additional summary by Mike
Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub, and Limongi: What Makes Democracies Endure?
Main question: What conditions should be present in order to ensure democracy in the future?
1) Current democracy
3) Growth with moderate inflation
4) Declining inequality
5) A favorable international climate
6) Parliamentary institutions
Research Design: Counted instances of survival and death of political regimes in 135 countries observed annually between 1950 (or year of independence or first year of data availability) and 1990.
Key definitions: The authors embrace a minimalist definition of democracy - all regimes that hold elections in which the opposition has some chance of winning and taking office is a democracy. When in doubt, the authors lean towards calling a regime dictatorial.
1) There is no clear regime effect (type of regime) on economic growth.
2) Transitions to democracy appear to be random with regard to levels of development.
3) When a country has a democratic regime, its level of economic development has a very strong effect on the probability that democracy will survive.
4) Huntington and O'Donnell claim that there is a level beyond which further development decreases the probability that democracy will survive. Here, the authors argue that there is no income level at which democracies become more fragile than when they were poorer.
5) Similarly, above a certain income threshold, democracies are essentially impregnable.
6) Democracies can survive in poorer countries if they generate economic growth with a moderate rate of inflation.
7) Rapid growth is not destabilizing for democracies, but rather they are more likely to survive when they grow faster.
8) The fragility of democracy at lower levels of development flows largely from its vulnerability in the face of economic crises.
9) The authors find no relationship between degrees of income inequality and democratic survival. However, democracy more likely to survive in countries where income inequality is declining over time.
10) International conditions, such as the proportion of democracies on the globe and in the region during a particular year, appears to affect the likelihood of democratic survival. The global effect is twice as large as the regional effect.
11) Political learning doesn't always improve the odds of survival because, in many cases, democracy has been successfully subverted at times.
12) Linz claimed that parliamentary democracies are more durable than presidential ones since parliamentary democracies allow greater degrees of political participation and presidential democracies may generate legislative paralysis. Empirical evidence suggests that Linz was correct. The result doesn't appear to be linked to income levels or the geographical location of states in the study.
13) Democracies are also less likely to survive when they combine presidentialism with a fragmented party system.
14) Parliamentary systems are more vulnerable than presidential systems to economic crises.
15) Presidential regimes less likely to survive in newly independent countries.
16) Democracy may be more brittle under presidentialism because the military could play a larger role in politics. Empirical evidence appears to confirm this.
Takeway: International factors and political institutions are important, but economic performance seems to be key to democratic durability. Democracies can survive even in the poorest nations if they generate development, reduce inequality over time, if the international climate is favorable, and if they have parliamentary institutions. Consolidation is not a function of time but rather is a form of habituation or mechanical institutionalization.