Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime...
Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve Jessica L+ Weeks Abstract Scholars of international relations usually argue that democracies are better able to signal their foreign policy intentions than nondemocracies, in part because democracies have an advantage in generating audience costs that make back- ing down in international crises costly to the leader+ This article argues that the conventional hypothesis underestimates the extent to which nondemocratic leaders can be held accountable domestically, allowing them to generate audience costs+ First, I identify three factors contributing to audience costs: whether domestic polit- ical groups can and will coordinate to punish the leader whether the audience views backing down negatively and whether outsiders can observe the possibility of domes- tic sanctions for backing down+ The logic predicts that democracies should have no audience costs advantage over autocracies when elites can solve their coordination dilemma, and the possibility of coordination is observable to foreign decision mak- ers+ Empirical tests show that democracies do not in fact have a significant signal- ing advantage over most autocracies+ This finding has important implications for understanding the relationship between regime type and international relations+ The idea that democracies have an advantage over autocracies in signaling their intentions is now axiomatic+ Audience costs, or the domestic punishment that lead- ers would incur for backing down from public threats, are thought to increase lead- ers��� ability to convey their preferences credibly during military crises+1 These audience costs are typically assumed to be higher in democracies, where demo- cratic institutions increase the likelihood that the leader will actually face punish- ment for backing down+2 Therefore, scholars typically argue that democracies have I am grateful to Emanuel Adler, Eduardo Bruera, Dara Kay Cohen, Luke Condra, James Fearon, Miriam Golden, Steve Haber, Alex Kuo, Bethany Lacina, David Laitin, Yotam Margalit, Lisa Martin, Kenneth McElwain, Victor Menaldo, Louis Pauly, Maggie Peters, Scott Sagan, Kenneth Schultz, Jake Shapiro, Michael Tomz, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in various Stanford Univer- sity courses and workshops for their helpful comments+ Replication files can be downloaded at ^www+stanford+edu0 jweeks0research&+ 1+ Fearon 1994+ 2+ See Fearon 1994 Eyerman and Hart 1996 Partell and Palmer 1999 Gelpi and Griesdorf 2001 and Prins 2003+ Schultz 1999 also presents evidence consistent with that hypothesis+ Slantchev 2006, in contrast, argues that audience costs are higher in democracies only when press freedom is strongly protected+ International Organization 62, Winter 2008, pp+ 35���64 �� 2008 by The IO Foundation+ DOI: 10+10170S0020818308080028
an advantage over other regime types in crisis bargaining and making credible commitments more generally+ The conventional wisdom, however, rests on an underestimate of the vulnera- bility of leaders in nondemocratic regimes+3 The stereotypical autocrat in the inter- national relations literature resembles Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il crushing domestic rivals and co-opting political institutions+ But such despots are a minority among nondemocratic leaders+ I develop a logic of autocratic audience costs that takes into account that most authoritarian leaders require the support of domestic elites who act as audiences in much the same way as voting publics in democracies+4 The crucial question in generating international credibility is whether the relevant domestic audience can and will coordinate to sanction the leader, and whether the possibility of coordination is observable to foreign decision makers+ While the small groups of supporters in autocratic regimes differ from the more inclusive audiences that can punish democratic leaders, autocratic elites can nevertheless visibly remove incumbents when elites have incentives to coordinate to punish the leader, and domestic politics are sta- ble enough that outsiders can infer this possibility+ These conditions hold in many autocracies+ Together, these insights about coordination, elite incentives, and visibility have important implications for understanding variation in regimes��� abilities to make credible threats and promises+ Tests of the effects of regime type on foreign policy must therefore take into account differences between auto- cracies+ I show that existing empirical support for the claim that demo- cracies have a signaling advantage in military disputes results from treating a heterogeneous set of autocracies as undifferentiated+ When the group of au- thoritarian regimes is disaggregated, democracies are not more successful in signaling their resolve than most types of authoritarian regimes+ The excep- tions are ���personalist��� regimes and certain types of monarchies, in which the leader has the means to impede elite coordination, as well as new democracies and unstable nondemocracies, where the threat of removal is not observable to outsiders+5 I begin with a theoretical discussion of the necessary conditions for generating audience costs+ I then argue that autocratic regimes meet these requirements when elites have incentives and ability to coordinate to punish the leader and the poten- tial for punishment is visible to foreign decision makers+ Statistical analysis of militarized interstate disputes strongly supports the hypothesis that democracies are not better at generating audience costs than most autocracies+ 3+ I will use the terms nondemocratic, authoritarian, autocratic, and dictatorial interchangeably, though some scholars attribute more specific meanings to these terms+ 4+ Bueno de Mesquita et al+ 2003+ 5+ See Geddes 2003+ Chehabi and Linz 1996 describe a similar type of regime, which they term ���sultanistic+��� 36 International Organization
The Logic of Audience Costs The audience costs proposition suggests that states can send informative signals about their resolve by making public threats in international crises+6 Because lead- ers could suffer domestic consequences for making a threat and then not carrying it out, they are able to create potential domestic consequences for backing down+ This in turn gives their threats greater credibility+ Since the concept of audience costs was first articulated by Fearon, scholars have assumed that democracies have an advantage in generating audience costs, and hence an advantage in signaling resolve+7 Although Fearon does not deny that some autocrats might be able to create audience costs, he proposes a democratic advantage since democratic leaders cannot control ex post punishment for backing down from a threat+ The risk that reneging will be punished domestically, in turn, renders the threat more credible internationally+ In contrast, dictators are assumed to exert greater control over their tenure, implying an inability to credibly jeopar- dize their political futures+ Thus, ���democracy��� is often used in this literature as shorthand for accountability+8 A recent body of work has found empirical support for the hypothesis that democracies have a signaling advantage attributable to audi- ence costs+9 But the possibility that authoritarian regimes exhibit predictable variation in their ability to generate audience costs, and moreover, that democracy is not necessary for generating audience costs, merits further attention+ Elections and democratic institutions are only one way in which domestic groups can coordinate to hold leaders accountable+ In order to reevaluate prevailing arguments about how audi- ence costs vary across political systems, it is helpful to clarify the logic of audi- ence costs+ A leader���s ability to generate domestic political costs is influenced by three cen- tral factors+ First, audience costs require that a domestic political audience has the means and incentives to coordinate to punish the leader+ Second, domestic actors must view backing down after having made a threat as worse than conceding with- out having made a threat in the first place+ Third, outsiders must be able to observe the possibility of domestic sanctions for backing down+ Nondemocratic states vary greatly with respect to these three variables+ 6+ See Schelling 1963 and Fearon 1994+ 7+ Fearon 1994+ 8+ See, for example, Guisinger and Smith 2002, 180+ Other researchers have taken a more agnostic view, though they still group regimes according to the level of democracy see Chiozza and Goemans 2004+ 9+ See Eyerman and Hart 1996 Partell and Palmer 1999 Gelpi and Griesdorf 2001 and Prins 2003+ In addition, Schultz���s finding that democracies are less likely to be resisted in international crises can be interpreted as evidence in favor of higher democratic audience costs, though Schultz presents a distinct theoretical mechanism where resolve is revealed through public party competition see Schultz 1999 and 2001a+ Regime Type and Signaling Resolve 37
Domestic Actors Can and Will Coordinate to Sanction the Leader The first factor influencing audience costs is whether a domestic audience can and will punish the leader for backing down from a threat, the ultimate punishment being removal from office+ Fearon does not lay out explicitly when a domestic group qualifies as an audience, though he argues that ���kings, rival ministers, oppo- sition politicians, Senate committees, politburos, and, since the mid-nineteenth cen- tury, mass publics informed by mass media��� have all counted as relevant audiences historically+10 One can infer that the essential feature of a domestic audience is its ability to sanction the leader+ Building on this logic, the working hypothesis has been that leaders are much more vulnerable to domestic punishment in democracies than in nondemocracies, due to the existence of self-enforcing institutions specifically designed to hold lead- ers accountable+ In nondemocracies, in contrast, sanctioning the leader is thought to be a much riskier and costlier endeavor+ International relations scholars have therefore tended to assume that autocratic leaders are largely unaccountable to domestic groups+11 However, scholars of comparative politics have long argued that even without democratic institutions, autocratic leaders depend on the support of domestic groups to survive in office+12 The difference is that in authoritarian regimes, these influen- tial groups usually represent fewer societal interests than in democratic regimes+ This insight has been integrated into some of the recent international relations literature, though not the literature on audience costs and the ability to convey resolve+13 The Costs of Coordination. In understanding audience costs, the democratic- autocratic distinction is only a rough proxy for the ability of domestic groups to sanction leaders for missteps such as backing down+ In any political system, pun- ishing a leader can be viewed as a coordination problem between individuals or groups in society+14 What, though, is the nature of this coordination problem, and how do members of different societies solve it? The fundamental challenge facing any individual���no matter what the political regime���is how to determine whether the benefits of participating in the removal of the leader outweigh the potential costs+ The first source of costs is the individual���s expectation that the individual will be punished for moving to oust the incumbent+ This depends on whether the individual thinks the ouster will be successful, which 10+ Fearon 1994, 581+ 11+ As McGillivray and Smith put it, ���ousting authoritarian leaders is more costly @than ousting democratic leaders#, often requiring social unrest and possibly even civil war��� McGillivray and Smith 2000, 815+ 12+ See Geddes 1999 and 2003 Bueno de Mesquita et al+ 1999 and 2003 and Haber 2006+ 13+ See Goemans 2000 and Bueno de Mesquita et al+ 2003+ 14+ Weingast 1997+ 38 International Organization
depends on whether the individual can learn reliable information about other indi- viduals��� intentions+ More specifically, individuals deciding whether to participate in the ouster of a leader face a strategic situation similar to the stag hunt, a classic coordination game+15 Imagine that two individuals face an incumbent that they would both pre- fer to see replaced, all else equal+ Both individuals must decide whether to oust or not���this could take the form of casting a ballot, protesting in the streets, or obey- ing a new leader rather than the incumbent+ The ouster will be successful only if both individuals ~or, more realistically, many individuals in a multiplayer game! choose to oust+ This situation most strongly resembles a coordination game rather than a prisoner���s dilemma because no indi- vidual wants to be the ���odd one out��� her strategy depends on her expectations about the other players��� actions+ If everyone else ousts, the individual prefers to oust too, because she can then capture the higher payoff from her preferred out- come of replacing the leader, as well as gaining influence under the new leader- ship+ If the individual cannot trust that enough other players will oust, however, she is better off lying low ~catching rabbits!+ The structure of the game also cap- tures the idea that the payoffs to lying low alone0catching rabbits alone are higher than the payoffs of ousting alone0hunting stag alone+ Given this strategic situation, the outcome depends on the players��� beliefs about what the other player~s! will do+ In one-shot coordination games in which players care only about their own payoffs, and do not face any additional costs for voicing their preferences, simple communication is usually enough for successful coordi- nation because players have no incentive to lie about their intentions+ In such a situation, two people who preferred to oust would simply say so, and would then execute their plan+ In politics, however, coordination is more difficult because individuals may face external incentives to conceal their true preference+ Most importantly, individuals may fear retaliation from the incumbent for voicing opposition+ This fear will be heightened with increases in the leader���s ability to monitor individuals and punish the disloyal+ As the incumbent���s ability to monitor and punish rises, individuals will find it more preferable to conceal their preference to oust���or, in the words of Kuran, to engage in preference falsification, voicing a public preference that diverges from their private preference+16 In sum, when the incumbent can monitor and punish on the basis of publicly expressed preferences, coordination becomes difficult even if all players��� ���underlying��� preference is to oust+ Throughout history, societies have used a number of different methods to limit the leaders��� ability to use monitoring and punishment to impede coordination+ For 15+ See Menaldo 2006, for a similar logic focusing on the importance of constitutions in authori- tarian regimes+ 16+ Kuran 1991+ Kuran���s analysis of preference falsification and revolutionary bandwagoning in the context of the Eastern European revolutions is closely related to the logic I develop here+ However, my analysis is focused less on the rapidity of coordination than variation in coordination across regime types+ Regime Type and Signaling Resolve 39