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Journal article

Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve

Weeks J, Adler E, Bruera E, Cohen D, Condra L, Fearon J, Golden M, Haber S, Kuo A, Lacina B, Laitin D, Margalit Y, Martin L, Mcelwain K, Menaldo V, Pauly L, Peters M, Sagan S, Schultz K, Shapiro J, Tomz M ...see all
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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

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  • Jessica L+ Weeks

  • Emanuel Adler

  • Eduardo Bruera

  • Dara Kay Cohen

  • Luke Condra

  • James Fearon

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